/ Modified feb 14, 2020 4:31 p.m.

Controlled blasts for border wall project draw criticism

Critics say they threaten cultural sites that belong to the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Controlled blasting on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument for a border wall project led to uproar over concerns the explosions damaged cultural sites significant to the Tohono O’odham Nation. It also resulted in conflicting statements from the tribe and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva shared a video on Twitter on Feb. 9 where he claimed the blasts disturbed the graves of Apache warriors.

“Where they were blasting the other day on Monument Hill is the resting place for primarily Apache warriors that had been involved in battle with the O’odham. And then the O’odham people in a respectful way laid them to rest on Monument Hill,” Grijalva said in the video.

In subsequent statements, Tohono O’odham Nation Chairman Ned Norris, Jr. said the construction would “irrevocably harm cultural sites, sacred sites and the environment.” He went on to add that federal agencies had not held meaningful consultations with the nation.

Customs and Border Protection told Arizona Public Media in an email that the Border Patrol Tucson Sector’s tribal liaisons have had constant communication with leadership, including meetings about border wall construction since May 2019. Another statement from the agency said its own surveys did not identify any biological, cultural or historical sites in the project area.

The project calls for 43 miles of 30-foot bollard fencing along Organ Pipe. According to Customs and Border Protection, the controlled blasts are expected to continue intermittently throughout the month.

Arizona 360
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