Friday, April 7, 2017

The Drug Trade's Hard to the Tohono O'odham Tribe

Today’s Tohono O’odham Native Americans face a serious problem.  When the Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security Operation Gate Keeper and Operation Hold the Line in California and Texas, they inadvertently created a funnel effect directing illegal border crossings towards Arizona and tribal lands.  According to the Congressional Research Service “efforts to secure the San Diego and Tucson areas have led to increased illegal migration in the Western Arizona area, including the Tohono O’odham Nation” .  This shift towards the sparsely populated Tohono O’odham reservation not only causes drug related issues for the O’odham but causes difficulty for the Border Patrol.  For example: rather than watching for people climbing out of the water along the Rio Grande River, Border Patrol now must watch flat stretches of land with underbrush to provide cover, or hills and rocks.  The so called War on Drugs has also increased drug trafficking in Indian Country.   According to a study on meth use and pressures on Homeland Security “Mexican drug trafficking operations view…the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation…as corridors for the movement of illegal drugs” .  Further, this same article highlights an example of a Mexican drug lord, Jesus Martin Sagaste-Cruz “encouraging male members in the drug ring to develop romantic relationships with and even marry Indian women” .  He then had plans to expand his operations up North to Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Yankton, and Santee reservations.  The smugglers targeting of Native American reservations is a strategic move, as the reservations afford the cartels open spaces to operate, are sparsely populated—the Tohono O’odham reservation has less than 1 person per square mile—are prone to poverty, and have poorly structured law enforcement departments.  The destitution found on reservations gives smugglers a source of cheap labor, with the average wage for people under 25 hovering around $11,000  coupled with 37.7% of the total population living under the poverty line . These conditions create a breeding ground for drug addictions and cartel involvement.   According to Shadow Wolf Bryan Nez , reportedly a member of the Navajo tribe, the Tohono “O’odham’s pandemic poverty has lured some 80% of the tribe…into the Mexican drug game” . The drug trade causes irreparable harm to the tribe, harming not only tribe members who are addicted to narcotics and their families, but also the ecology of the environment, the intactness of sacred lands, burials and objects, and the area’s economy.  When speaking with the presenters at the Tohono Cultural Center, the Tribal members were keen to highlight how smugglers run across the land with no respect for the cultural significance it contains.  Further, while seminars on cultural preservation have lessened the damage caused to the land, Border Patrol officers can get caught up in an off road chase with narcos that inadvertently causes harm.  Even without considering the social damage caused, the ecological damage is extremely significant. Each year, the border crossers “leave more than 2,000 tons of cast off bottles, clothing, backpacks, and human waste on the reservation” .  The mass influx of drug runners and migrants has caused increased levels of crime, with residents forced to better secure their homes.  A people that could once walk through their land without fear now must worry about itinerants sleeping on porches or in outbuildings.  Even if the migrants do not directly harm the native population, the natural consequences of crossing a hostile desert environment leaves many people to tragically die in no man’s land.    Over the course of a single year the Nation spent nearly $7,000,000 dealing with the repercussions of the border crossings.  This did not even go towards securing the border, but rather autopsies, homicide investigations, medical treatment, and abandoned vehicle removal.  With the most recent numbers showing the Tohono O’odham Police having only 86 sworn in officers , the Tribe alone is not equipped to deal with drugs on the home front, let alone deal with the mules carrying drugs across tribal lands.

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