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Border & Immigration

Native American Tribe Protests Treatment Of Migrants At U.S. Border

Native American activists from across the country came to the Rio Grande Valley on Saturday to protest the treatment of migrants at the U.S. border, including children detention and family separation.

Dozens of people gathered at a park in McAllen to stand in solidarity with the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe.

The Native Voice Network was one of the groups to help organize the event. They're a network of Native American families and organizations who mobilize through indigenous cultural values.

The tribe’s people have lived throughout south Texas, northern Mexico and along both sides of the Rio Grande for centuries. 

They’re not federally recognized and there’s little documentation on the tribe, but members are keeping their history alive. 

Emma Garcia Ortega, a tribal elder, took to the stage at the rally. 

Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Emma Garcia Ortega is part of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe. She attended a rally on Saturday July 27, 2019 to protest the Trump administration's separation of families and detention of children and families.

“We have not gone anywhere,” said Garcia on stage. “They may say we have. They may say that we’re in the history books. No, we’re still here and we will always be here.” 

Garcia also called for the end of family separations on the border of their relatives from the south.

“And to think that our babies are being separated. What’s going to happen to them?” asked Garcia from the stage. “Will they ever see mama again? Will they ever see grandpa and grandma? Will that husband ever see his wife and that wife see her husband and her family?” 

Garcia is Carrizo/Comecrudo and Lipan Apache. 

She said she always knew about her indigenous roots because her parents would talk to her about it, but growing up she had a hard time accepting her Native identity.

“There was a theater we used to go to on Saturdays and they showed all these cowboys and indians and the Apaches attacking the trains and it was horrible what they were doing to the people and I would tell my daddy, ‘Yo no soy Apache,’” said Garcia. “He would say, ‘No son las películas. They’re only the movies.’ I didn’t want to be an indian because that’s the way they saw me and I knew I wasn’t that.”

Nellie Jo David, who is part of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona, was also at the rally. 

She said her community back home was divided when the border was created in 1854 by the Gadsden Purchase, which acquired what is now southern Arizona and part of southwestern New Mexico. Some of her people were in Mexico, while the others remained on the U.S. side of the new border.

Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
Nellie Jo David is part of the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona. She traveled down to Texas' Rio Grande Valley to participate in the rally.

“Our ancestors were told that we would be able to move freely and the border was nothing to us. In my mind, the border doesn’t exist because both sides of O’odham territory is one territory. It’s a big hurt to learn our history and to see what the result of it has come.” 

David said during the 1980s, there was an increase of border patrol presence in their region. David said today, her people cannot enter, or exit, their reservation without going through a border patrol checkpoint.

“We’re also facing integrated fixed towers, which are these very tall apparatuses that have these high powered cameras and they’re putting them on the reservation and they’re putting them facing communities and they basically watch us 24/7,” she said.

After the rally, members of the Carrizo/Comecrudo tribe invited people to visit one of their campsites.

Members of the tribe and supporters have been camping out for the past several months at the Eli Jackson Cemetery. It’s about a mile from the Rio Grande near the town of San Juan, where some of their native ancestors are buried. There are also tombstones that date back to the Civil War. Veterans from World War I, World War II and the Korean War are also buried there

Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio
The Eli Jackson Cemetery in San Juan, Texas has ancestors of the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe buried there. There are also veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War buried in the cemetery. The Trump administration has proposed a border wall that would cut through the cemetery.

The Trump administration has proposed a wall that would cut right through the cemetery. Dr. Christopher Basaldu, a member of the Carrizo/ Comecrudo tribe, camped out for months to protest the wall.

“They haven’t bulldozed the area. We don’t know how much longer that’s going to last,” said Basaldu. “CBP has announced in a press release last June that they are going to try and avoid the cemetery, but what does that mean? I don’t trust that CBP is communicating honestly.” 

Basaldu said he’s concerned about the Supreme Court’s recent decision that would allow

President Trump to use military funds for the construction of the wall. Basaldu said it’s important to continue protesting the wall, but also family separations — something he said has happened in the past.

“Making slaves out of Native people and then stealing Africans from Africa and making slaves out of them over here. It’s a long history of stealing and separating children from their families,” said Basaldu. “In the boundary of the United States Native American children were stolen and put into boarding schools for many generations, even when families would fight to keep their children.”

Basaldu said members of the tribe will continue to camp out at the cemetery to protest the border wall and they’ll make their voices heard to protest anything that dehumanizes their community or any native and brown people.


Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos