Indigenous People Demand an End to Detention on Stolen Lands

“As the original caretakers of these lands and territories, we have inherent authority over migration and demand an end to these barbaric acts.”
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Demonstrator holds a sign that reads, “No one is illegal on stolen land” at a protest near the U.S.-Mexico border.

The protest organized by the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and Native Voice Network will take place Saturday, July 27, near a detention center in McAllen, Texas.

Photo by SOPA Images/Getty Images

Not far from a detention center in McAllen, Texas, Indigenous people will gather on Saturday for a demonstration, joining their voices to the ongoing chorus of protests over the detention of asylum-seekers along the U.S. southern border.

Taking a Stand on Our Stolen Land is organized by the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas and Native Voice Network on traditional Esto’k Gna territory.

“As the original caretakers of these lands and territories, we have inherent authority over migration and demand an end to these barbaric acts,” they say in announcing the event. “We demand the administration immediately dismantle detention facilities and family separations and stop border wall construction.”

The demonstration planned for Los Encinos Park, not far from the McAllen Border Patrol Processing Center, is among several actions in recent weeks calling for the closure of what many are calling concentration camps. But as Indigenous people, the Carrizo/Comecrudo people bring a unique voice to one question: Why are fellow Indigenous Americans being detained on their ancestral land?

“We the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe of Texas are the First Peoples of this land,” they say. “We predate this country and are coming together to take a stand against the U.S. government’s response to the migration of our relatives from the south.”

The children and their parents being held at the McAllen facility and other detention centers along the southwest border won’t look very different from many of the tribal members who will be demonstrating outside. And in some ways, they won’t look much different from me, either, a Coahuiltecan-Comanche who is part Spanish.

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Maybe from a tribe 1,000 miles away but separated by national borders, many of the detained asylum-seekers have native lineage in the Americas dating back 15,000 years.

Stretching from California to the tip of South Texas, the southern U.S. border didn’t magically separate Mexico and Central American from the Native Americans in the United States. The Miskito from Honduras or Rama of Nicaragua are not genetic strangers to the Sioux or Lakota or Diné of the U.S.

Rather, they are our primos, our cousins. Our border on the south doesn’t separate genetics; it doesn’t assign a different history or lineage.

Imagine, if you will, the Americas as a vast landscape of native people—from the southern tip of Argentina, where the penguins reign, to the tip of North America where the Arctic Circle begins.

This expanse was first populated by people crossing the Bering Strait from Asia and perhaps boat people from the Pacific. The people who made these crossings remain a part of the people we know today as Native Americans, despite the borders separating them.

They were the first immigrants. And really the first Americans who, because of borders, are being held in cages across the Southwest.

Saturday’s event, Taking a Stand on Our Stolen Land, recognizes this great irony—that these asylum-seekers, whether political or economic, are being held prisoners on their ancestral lands.

This separation of people and land by borders set by the U.S. didn’t happen overnight.

Organizers say they are planning a peaceful gathering, “for ceremony, performances, and a rally; in the spirit of resistance and protection of our relatives.”

This kind of resistance against the U.S. government isn’t new to the Carrizo/Comecrudo people, who earlier this year led a successful opposition to the Trump administration’s plans for a 30-foot border wall that would have plowed through a 154-year-old cemetery.

Tribal members and their allies took up residence in a tent village adjacent to the cemetery in the Hidalgo County city of San Juan, just north of the Rio Grande. In June, the U.S. government issued a notice that it would reroute the wall to avoid disturbing the graves. But the tribal members remain in the village, monitoring wall construction and keeping watch over the cemetery.

“Indigenous people on the American side of the border have been subject to policies that have resulted in family separation, internment camps, and detention at the hands of the Federal Government,” the organizers of Saturday’s event say. “We will not sit idly by and watch the replication of these injustices on our stolen lands and territories.”

The action comes on the heels of two opposing rulings by federal judges regarding a Trump administration rule that was to have taken effect this week, barring asylum for anyone who passed through another country to get to the U.S.

Advocacy groups sought an injunction to block the measure, which would have affected the vast majority of Central Americans seeking asylum in the U.S.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar in California blocked the administration from implementing the new rule, hours after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., Timothy J. Kelly, refused to issue an injunction. The appellate courts will sort it all out.

This separation of people and land by borders set by the U.S. didn’t happen overnight.

Beginning in 1836, when a Texas insurrection roiled the geographical landscape, the U.S. has steadily moved its borders south and west. In 1846, the U.S. declared war on Mexico. By the time it ended two years later, Mexico had lost nearly half its territory, including the present American Southwest from Texas to California. The Rio Grande became the new southern boundary of Texas.

Where once the Diné (Navajo) and Comanche and Apache people lived, the border separated families and tribes. The Indigenous here were segregated in reservations. The Indigenous across the border were simply called Mexican.

So, in 2019, we find ourselves, still, in the business of sequestration of Indigenous Americans. Since 2014, thousands of Central Americans have joined caravans of people making their way to the U.S. southern border, many in search of asylum. And Saturday’s event in McAllen could signal the start of a new national conversation about the right of all Native Americans to make and stake a claim to these lands.