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Tohono O’odham Nation chairman upset with blasting at sacred burial sites

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TUCSON - The Tohono O'odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris Jr. is criticizing the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs after they say crews started blasting sacred burial sites along Monument Hill at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, west of Lukeville, Ariz.

Norris Jr. made the remarks on Monday during a National Congress of American Indians' winter session in Washington D.C.

"They desecrated those human remains that were there," Norris Jr. said, "You have an obligation to protect sacred sites and sacred areas and religious areas for Native American people. You have failed to make sure...I call on you to exercise your responsibility and stop the destruction of sacred sites of native american communities."

News 4 Tucson reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection who the following statement.

"The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month. U.S. Customs and Border Protection will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.

As with all border barrier projects, CBP conducted biological, cultural, and natural resource surveys of all new border wall system projects currently being executed in the Tucson Sector including the area of Monument Mountain within the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In addition, CBP has and will continue to coordinate with federal land managers, state agencies, local governments, tribal governments, and other interested stakeholders to obtain information about the possible presence of sensitive resources that may be within the project areas and to develop site-specific construction best management practices to be implemented by the contractor during construction activities that avoid or minimize impacts to resources to the great extent possible.  

Based on the environmental surveys and stakeholder coordination completed, no biological, cultural, or historical sites were identified within the project area, which consists of the 60 foot wide swath of land that extends from the international border north and is known as the Roosevelt Reservation. Recently the construction contractor began controlled blasting on Monument Hill within a 5 foot wide area of the Roosevelt Reservation that is immediately adjacent to the international border for the purpose of loosening rock in order to allow for the construction of a footer for the new border wall.

CBP’s environmental monitor is present during these activities to ensure that if any previously unidentified culturally sensitive artifacts are observed within the project area that construction is halted and the appropriate stakeholders are notified to include tribal nations. In addition, the environmental monitor is present to ensure construction best management practices are being implemented by the construction contractor."

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva is taking a stand on Capitol Hill after his tour along the border just last month.

"At the end of this month we're holding a hearing to deal with this issue," Grijalva said. "Homeland Security on the next day will also hold a hearing on the issues of accountability for the agency and why this occurring."

Environmental advocates are also weighing in.

"It's hard to imagine the desert here will ever recover. This is going to be a very difficult year," said Laiken Jordahl with the Center for Biological Diversity. "We are hopeful that one of our lawsuits might actually stop construction but until that happens we are truly living a nightmare here at the borderlands. We are watching walls be built in all four border states."

Denelle Confair

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