Indigenous Elders Singled Out for New Border Condemnations
January 5, 2010
Eloisa García Támez: Eloisa.Tamez1@gmail.com
For Immediate Release
Lipan Apaches, Támez-Benavidez Stronghold on Texas-Mexico Border Singled Out for New Round of Federal Condemnations
Feds Want More Land to Put ‘Holes’ in Border Wall for Commercial Users:
Native American & Traditional Peoples’ Lands Targeted for Surveys
Eloisa Támez and her elderly relative, (Sr. Benavidez), have an active lawsuit against the United States and the Texas-Mexico Border Wall, which, last April 2009, sealed off the Indigenous and Traditional Peoples of El Calaboz from their lands, culture, and livelihoods on the south side of the wall. Tamez and Benavidez, who challenged the U.S. in a class action law suit, are currently awaiting notification of the new date of their ‘compensation’ jury trial, which has been postponed more than three times.
The extensively documented case, Eloisa G. Tamez, et al. Civil Action No.: 1:08-CV-0004 (United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas (Brownsville Division), has opened up new conceptual grounds about the contemporary challenges of states’ rights and human rights, and where these intersect with Indigenous peoples’ rights to culture, environments, livelihoods, traditional ways of life and Peoplehood.
The lands in contestation have been held in continuity by Indigenous peoples prior to the Spanish colonization of northeast Mexico and Texas, and in 1749 were granted to the ancestors of Tamez and Benavidez. European legal traditions of granting lands collectively and individually to Native Americans has origins in 1526, when Hernán Cortéz granted encomiendas and hidalgos to Nahua and Tlaxcalteca peoples.
The tradition of granting lands to Indigenous peoples throughout Mexico’s northern states and the U.S. Southwest is a complex and entangled legal history between Native Americans on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and the States, and often involving heated contestation when Native American rights to exist and to practice their laws, religions, and traditional organization are denied and threatened by the State em>especially when mega-development is an issue. In a previously published article, the Lipan Apache Women Defense has demonstrated that militarization, militarism, border walls, security technology, war contractors and dispossessing Indigenous peoples is big development for U.S.-based contractors. See ‘Resources’, below.
In the recent notification by the U.S. to Támez, it appears the U.S. government is considering the possibility of condemning more of her lands if she does not provide them entry to conduct more surveys. According to Cylke, the U.S. is seeking entry to “cure access” for land owners requesting commercial access to the levee and their lands on the south of the wall. Tamez, however, challenges this logic. “While it is true that access to the south side of the wall is important for many landowners, it is not rational that the government needs to possess more land on the levee—or beneath it—in order to open a hole in the wall. All they have to do is remove portions of what they constructed, not condemn more land to do so. The government is not being transparent. Condemn more lands to open the wall? Something is not right. I am refusing to allow them entry to my property for the 12 months they requested. If they want to open the wall, they should do so; the people need access to the titled lands on the south of the levee for their subsistence and livelihoods. However, the government should not require dispossessing individuals any further for that access to occur. The government and the contractors are targeting the Indigenous elders who have been most vocal in the exposure of the corruption which is at the foundation of the wall’s construction. They are targeting us as a specific group. The government recently dismantled a large section of the wall down the road from El Calaboz at a locally well-known agricultural business. We feel at this time, given the history of this case and the history of non-transparency in all matters regarding the border wall construction, that we must stand firm.”
According to Margo Tamez, a Lipan Apache scholar at Washington State University, the U.S. may not have the final say if the Indigenous peoples are successful in gaining the ear of the Inter-American Commission/Organization of American States.
In October 2008, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of the American States (OAS) held its 133rd regular period of sessions. In this period, the IACHR/OAS read briefs and listened to testimony of the University of Texas Law Working Group, comprised of faculty and law students of the University of Texas Law School, with Margo Tamez, an impacted community member. In their formal statement, the IACHR/OAS Jurists responded: “The Commission received troubling information about the impact that the construction of a wall in Texas, along the U.S.-Mexico border, has on the human rights of area residents, in particular its discriminatory effects. The information received indicates that its construction would disproportionally affect people who are poor, with a low level of education, and generally of Mexican descent, as well as indigenous communities on both sides of the border.”
(Available at: http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/humanrights/borderwall/analysis/iac-Press-Release-re-Hearing.pdf).
Texas-Mexico IAS/OAS Testimony at: http://lipanapachecommunitydefense.blogspot.com/2008/10/texas-mexico-border-wall-hearing-at.html
Indigenous peoples along the Texas-Mexico border—more than many other impacted groups—are burdened in multiple ways and disproportionately on all border wall construction projects because their communities have already been consistently targeted for State violence, militarization, repression and dispossession as a matter of the normative policies of the neo-liberal and settler State.
The ‘third world’ conditions of the Texas border communities are directly related to the structural violence which goes hand-in-hand with the the settler state and settler constitutionalism dominating the region’s violent race, gender, and class politics. The normalization of the Texas-Mexico border communities as ‘sacrifice zones’ is so deeply internalized within the consciousness of South Texas’ white citizenry that the scale of the violence and injustice is invisible to them.
Many historians have anayzed Texas as a unique case in North American histories of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and the entrenched pockets of cultures of violence which sustain the creed of lawlessness. The idealogy of hatred which birthed the settler society and spawned South Texas’ industrial corridors as the ‘gateway’ to Latin America is, as historian Gary Clayton Anderson stated, a culture where “Violence, especially against ethnic groups, had become economically institutionalized in Texas.” In this cultural landscape, the promotion of lawlessness, turmoil, and opportunity collide, and ‘South Texas’, from Indigenous perspectives, was constructed as an excuse to develop, destroy and kill.
Tragically, today this consciousness has not evolved. Violence has become, as Anderson argues, “ingrained in Texas, especially in the southern counties.” As in the past, today South Texas violence is laissez faire andfixed in an opportunistic manner–among governors, corporations, contractors, workers, congresspersons, commissioners, rangers, border patrols, and civil society. Indigenous peoples along the Texas border were already under extreme deprivation before the border wall–at alarming scales and at comparitive levels with many Third World nations and militarized conflict zones around the world. Fernando Romero-Lar cross-analyzed this border with the world’s top conflict zones: North Korea-South Korea; Israel and Palestine; Morocco and Spain; South Africa; and the Golden Triangle. Romero-Lar found that this border topped the list of all conflict-industrial global militarized borders to qualify as a ‘hyper-border.’ (See report: “Texas Borderlands: Frontier of the Future (2009)”)
The fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples are distorted in the normative Texas Creation Myth which traditionally views Indigenous peoples as less than human, servants, laborers, and ‘the multitudes of surplus workers.’ This construction of Indigenous peoples as ‘Other’ is a popularized stereotype which contorts white heroic masculinity through rationalized acts of genocide, extermination and structural violence against South & West Texas’ and northern Mexico’s aboriginal inhabitants.
Indigenous peoples’ precarious access to critical First Foods (necessary for the repair of their dietary health), safe and potable water, safe housing, healthcare, education, jobs, transportation, and an environment free of gender violence and militarization has been overshadowed by the general society’s pre-occupation with ‘security’ thinly masking the development objectives of NAFTA, the Security and Prosperity Partnership, and ongoing projects of the lucrative corporate war occupation to militarize our environments. Indigenous elders, while they contend with degrading and destructive harrassment and surveillance upon them as they go about their personal lives, cannot help but speak out against the erosion of rule of law and human rights as a daily reality in South Texas.
The occupied aspects of their lives is anything but natural–militarized occupation in South Texas and northern Mexico, funded with U.S. tax dollars, Homeland Security, and the Department of Defense, is socially and physically constructed by a Euro-American settler society which emigrated to the Texas border in the mid 19th century. Massive waves of Euro-ethnic emigrants and Anglos from the U.S. south appropriated Texas constitutionalized slavery as a normalized economic system of an expansion-prone, modernizing society. At its essence and most fundamental level, Texas embodies the principles of Liberal democracy and settler constitutionalism–based on a stratified society where Indigenous peoples, such as Apaches, Tlaxcaltecas, Coahuiltecs, Tiguas, Kikapoos, and Comanches, are viewed as ‘enemies,’ and exploitable as human battery packs energizing the dreamscape of the middle-class consumer.
Along the U.S. side of the Texas-Mexico border, the flavor of white America is most palpable on a one-on-one and up-close basis, as the Indigenous peoples witness, report and document their most fundamental human rights being further eroded. When they are not being followed by gangs of CBP patrol cars, U.S. helicopters, and government functionaries trampling through their lands unannounced, they are confronted with the new migrant workers imported to the region to consume the manly job of building the border wall.
With the new waves of Angl-American emigrants from states such as Nebraska and those incomes going out of state to households in the Mid-West, it seems as though the border wall is truly an import-export job. When the border wall was being constructed in Cameron County, community members reported that the increase in large vehicle (i.e. trucks) traffic on Hwy 281/Military Highway bearing license plates with NEBRASKA engraved upon them was obvious and noticeable. Government contractors tend to be loyal to their home districts and states, and Euro-American migrant workers from Nebraska importing a conspicuously Mid-Western consciousness of ‘Indians’ and ‘Mexicans, i.e. savages/illegals’ could be felt in the road and table manners of the Nebraska migrant workers exercising both militaristic and tourist-like behaviors with local Indigenous women–both on roads and restaurants, according to local witnesses. It seemed as though the daily work to build the wall included a conscious opportunistic will to exercise old-fashioned American masculinity and sexism upon the Indigenous women labor force.
These fixtures of violence in the heart of darkness continues to define and to mark Texas as a pernicious state within an outlaw State; an identity with a propensity for achieving ‘public goals’ exercised ‘democratically’ through violence against Indigenous peoples. In the whitestream, this violence generally goes unaddressed by the state, federal governments and U.S. civil society (who’d rather stay ‘safe’ in the boundaries of debating the progressiveness of ‘Avatar’ rather than hone in on the current ethnocides in the U.S. ‘Congo’–South Texas.
This violent and negligent will to empire, from the perspective of many Indigenous elders along the Texas-Mexico border, must then be taken up at different levels of legal oversite. They are resolved that they will not be intimidated by the violent propensities of the settler society for Indigenous land, water, minerals and bodies which are the markers of mega-projects.
Mega-projects–such as the border wall–impede the Indigenous elders from accessing their ancestral medicine plants, their biologically diverse properties titled to their ancestors through Crown land grants and treaties, and their sacred burial sites such as cemeteries which align both sides of the border wall. Indigenous peoples’ genealogical ties to historical places along the border wall construction, such as rancherias, communal meeting places, religious sites, missions, pueblos, presidios, wildlife areas, and traditional subsistence areas throughout the Texas-Mexico border region are eroding every day as a result of the lack of access to the lands on the south side of the wall which are owned by Indigenous peoples.
Eloisa Támez, a vocal opponent to the wall, seeks secure and unharmed access to her lands on the south side of the wall. Támez has documented numerous important species of flora and fauna on her lands necessary for continuity of culture, and she watches over the sites of habitation of her ancestors due to the destructive methods of government contractors who destroyed portions of her properties vegetation during the construction of the wall. The Lipan Apaches, like the Kickapoo, Tigua, and numerous tribes in Arizona, argue that the racist politics which are the foundation of the border wall must be calculated as “irreparable damage.” She does not believe that the government’s new request for “curing access” should entail dispossessing her elders and her community from Indigenous rights and the protection of their human rights. The federal lawsuit documented the ancestral, genealogical ties of Tamez and Benavidez, and an important South Texas Lipan Apache band in the region, which are signatories on key treaties, accords, hidalgos, merceds and land grants with Spain, Mexico, Texas and the United States.
Margo Tamez, a scholar at Washington State University, notes, “By refusing this community’s requests for secure access to their lands and cultural properties—which are necessary to sustain their traditional subsistence vis-à-vis agrarian, pastoral livelihoods, traditional gatherings and religious practices— the U.S. is failing to protect their human rights under International Law. Negative consequences may be associated with the failure to do so.”
Eloisa Tamez, a strong proponent of the health of poor and traditional peoples of her community, restates her firm resolve. “The health of our elders is severely threatened by this singling out of our small community—and our elders—in El Calaboz and the possibility of further dispossession.” Numerous experts debating and writing about this case agree that the border wall mega-project and continuous dispossessions against numerous traditional and poor communities disproportionately targets the most vulnerable. Texas’ border counties are the poorest in the nation. The wall currently stands on the #1 and #2 most impoverished counties in the entire U.S., according to the last five years census reports. Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Presidio counties are often analyzed and cross-compared to many developing nations–globally.
Margo Tamez, who is also the founder of an Indigenous Peoples Organization at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, concurs with the community members. “We feel that Indigenous peoples’ human rights are being violated—and this serious concern explicitly involves the United States and state government representatives along the entire U.S.-Mexico border—on both sides of the border. Lipan Apaches have demonstrated their serious grievances against the violation of their human rights along with other Apache nations (San Carlos Apache Tribe) at the United Nations in the past two years. The international law forums are increasingly critical sites for Indigenous peoples divided by this border to seek out alternative partners, allies, and legal avenues to pursue reparations and their human rights against States which are violators.”
At the local level, the singling out of Indigenous elders is causing further injury and irreparable harm against future existences of Lipan Apaches and Traditional Peoples in the El Calaboz Ranchería. Their lifeways are threatened, and thus, so are Lipan Apache grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Indigenous children’s rights are increasingly taking on important visibility at the United Nations, where the U.S. has been taken to task for numerous violations against Indigenous children who live and work within its political borders. Eloisa Támez, in her on-going challenge to dispossession, is taking a firm stand for the rights of Indigenous children. She states, “This is for the children—ours and everyone’s. The government is possibly seeking to take possessory rights to the Earth beneath the levee. My grandparents would not have allowed that, and they actively fought against this in their time. This is an on-going struggle for Indigenous peoples. Those land cannot be taken from the Indigenous peoples, according to traditional beliefs. The Earth is not for taking.”
Gary Clayton Anderson, The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land, 1820-1875, (Normal: University of Oklahoma Press, 2005).
The University of Texas at Austin, School of Law & The Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, “The Texas-Mexico Border Wall,” at http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/humanrights/borderwall/law/lawsuits-government.html
Margo Tamez, “The Texas-Mexico Border Wall Through the Eyes of Indigenous Communities in El Calaboz Rancheria,” May 2008.
The following is a list of corporate contractors involved in the building of the
Border wall in S. Texas.
Texas Divisions of Raytheon (Network Centric Systems)
L-C Communications (Integrated Systems)
Northrup Grumman (Los Angeles, CA)
BAE Systems (Austin, TX)
SAIC of San Diego
Computer Sciences Corp of El Segundo, CA
America’s Border Security Group (Erriccson Inc, Plano, TX)
Fluor Corporation (NYSEL:FLR)
AEP Networks, Inc.
Texas A & M University
University of Texas (Austin)
Kellogg Brown & Root (Halliburton)
Secure Border Initiative Network
United Kingdom Home Office
PennWell. “Defense firms turn to border security.” Washington, 28, Dec. 2005.
“The government’s high-profile offensive to control the borders is spawning a growth market for the nations’s defense industry.” http://mae.pannet.com/Articles/Article_Display.cfm?ARTICLE_ID=244491&p=32 Accessed 11/20/07.
AEP Networks, America’s Border Security Group. “Ericcson’s AMerioca Border Security Group (ABSG) Offers Proven Effective Solution for U.S. Border Security.” http://www.aepnetworks.com/news/press_archive/release_06012006.htm
“Software Glitches Delay Virtual Border Fence.” Newsmax.com. Tuesday, Ocotober 30, 2007. http://www.newsmax.com/us/virtual_border_fence/2007/10/30/45069.html Accessed 11/20/07.;
Riley, Michael. “Fortress America–Building a Border: Part 2.” Denver Post. 03/06/07 http://www.denverpost.com/fortressamerica/ci_5356695. Accessed 11/20/07.;
McLemore, David. “Border Residents fuming over fence plans.” June 26, 2007. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/news/texassouthwest/stories/062707dntex…Accessed 11/20/07;
Downing, Margaret. “Killing Fences: Totally Misconstrued.” Houston Press, May 31 2007. http://www.houstonpress.com/2007-05-31/news/killing-fences-totally-misconstrued
Richey, Joseph. “Border for Sale: Privitizing Immigration Control. July 5, 2006. http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=13845&printsafe=1 Accessed 11/20/07;
PRNewswire. Garland, TX. “Raytheon Awarded Contract with U.K. Home Office for e-Borders Project.” November 14, 2007, http://money.cnn.com/news/newsfeeds/articles/prnewswire/NEW03314112007-1.htm Accessed 11/20/07.
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