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Young Kumeyaay Women Lead Protests Against Border Wall

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The border wall is planned to stretch along 14 miles of rugged terrain in the Laguna Mountains. But members of the Kumeyaay Nation say the work is destroying sensitive cultural sites.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Four weeks members of the [inaudible] nation have been protesting border wall construction in San Diego County saying their cultural heritage sites are being destroyed. KPBS reporter max, roughly nether tells us human remains have now been positively identified at the construction site. And local tribes are preparing for legal action against the government.

Speaker 2: 00:23 It stretches for 14 miles along rugged terrain. The quickly rising wall now cuts through areas that the Kuma nation, a collection of native tribes, based on both sides of the us Mexico border consider a major thoroughfare for their people. It was used for generations before white settlers arrived, burial sites, former villages, and other culturally sensitive sites dot the landscape. But members of the [inaudible] AAC, that customs and border protection, which is helping manage construction on the site has ignored evidence of the cultural heritage sites. There are no building a TAPO

Speaker 3: 00:56 They're using ten-year-old surveys to try to say that there aren't sites and certain areas. And when we've gone out there to protest, we've seen Midland soil, which is signs of cremation. We've seen flakes, tools, grinding stones. We've seen everything out there. And then that's an areas that they say that aren't artifacts

Speaker 2: 01:13 28 year old. Cynthia Parata is a tribal council member of the LA post, a band of mission Indians. She and other young Kuma gay women have been leading the protest movement and the searing heat of summer and the Laguna mountains. They've been standing in front of construction equipment and blocking access roads. Parata says the government is breaking the law by disregarding the native American graves protection and repatriation act known as NAGPRA Congress enacted it in 1990 to protect and safely relocate native burial sites.

Speaker 3: 01:43 We just want them to do it right right now they're waiving the laws that protect our remains, which is through NAGPRA. And they're waving a lot of other laws as well, which is we're just not okay with because we fought so hard to get those laws to begin with. And now they're waving them and just blowing through with the word

Speaker 2: 01:59 Last week. Members of the [inaudible] nation were accompanied by a forensic anthropologist who says she identified what was most likely a cremated human bone in the past customs and border protection has reached out to native groups to determine what to do with the remains and engage in a government to government consultation about the best way to move forward with construction while preserving cultural heritage sites. It usually does this months before the beginning of construction, but this time Parata says the government began construction without doing any of that.

Speaker 3: 02:29 We actually just heard about it. And we went out there to see if it was true. And we see in the construction were getting done. And that's when we decided to take action, because we didn't know about it. We never received any information about it.

Speaker 2: 02:42 [inaudible] say a representative from the army Corps of engineers told them the DOD is allowed to waive laws regarding burial sites because the wall construction is a matter of national defense. The money used for the wall construction is being redirected from the Pentagon's counter, narcotic budget, a transfer of money. That's being challenged in court. Now with further proof that CVP and the DOD are moving forward with the project. Without following the law, the [inaudible] are preparing a lawsuit to try to stop the wall construction.

Speaker 1: 03:11 And they're creating new access roads. They're creating new storage areas for their equipment. And none of those areas were monitored.

Speaker 2: 03:19 CVP says it had several discussions with [inaudible] leadership and members of various tribes since June to address their specific concerns, Kuma protesters, and especially younger tribe members say those meetings have gone nowhere.

Speaker 1: 03:33 I don't feel that we're protesting. I feel like we're just out there simply protecting the land, protecting the history.

Speaker 2: 03:39 19 year old, Brooke Bains, who grew up on the Manzanita reservation has been juggling her first cashier job with helping organize the protest.

Speaker 1: 03:47 Cool me I'm a women or a strong group of women. So I would say it's really important that the young women are leading it because a lot of things in this world are ran by men and older men at that

Speaker 2: 04:00 Bain says that's why they have to continue direct action to keep going to the wall, to try to stop construction,

Speaker 1: 04:06 Stay in prayer while I'm out there. I'm praying the whole time that I'm out there for safety of my people for protection, for the desecration to stop. So I'm not really thinking about me in myself and my body. I'm I'm praying. Joining me is KPBS reporter, max Rivlin, Nadler, and max. Welcome. Good to be here. Now, in your report, you described the area of the wall construction as rugged to rain. Can you give us more details about what that area looks like?

Speaker 2: 04:37 Yeah. So I was actually just out there a few hours ago. It is, um, you know, mountainy we're way up in the Laguna mountains. We're in right where they're building the wall right now. It's a bit of a Valley there's exposed rocks. There's um, low-lying shrubs. It's very peaceful. Of course there's always been for the past, you know, couple of decades or so infrastructure there there's a power line that runs right along where the border wall is going to go. So it's not as if it's untouched. Uh, but during those projects, uh, multiple surveys were done of the, of the area to make sure that culturally sensitive sites were not being tampered with. And if they were that precautionary measures were being taken to make sure that that burial sites were in being desecrated

Speaker 1: 05:21 And are the QVI protests taking place right there, right where the construction is taking place.

Speaker 2: 05:27 Yeah, they have been for the past couple of weeks, people have been waking up early, uh, you know, they meet up extremely early in the morning. They head out to block these access roads where these construction vehicles are coming and going. I saw just this morning, um, you know, back and forth it's of water, trucks, trucks, carrying gravel trucks, carrying, uh, dirt out from the area they've been blocking. Those they've been blocking the actual construction vehicles themselves that have been leveling the ground. These activities are ongoing and stretch well beyond the wall itself, right? Cause it's not just the wall that's being built. It's these access roads that are being used by these really heavy trucks that need to get through. So that's one thing that the protestors and people who are rallying around them really want to point out is what's happening here is not just wall infrastructure, but everything that's needed to make the wall itself.

Speaker 1: 06:19 Now, what kind of artifacts have already been found in that area before the wall construction began?

Speaker 2: 06:26 So for a long time, this has been an area of study. People found shards of pottery, other signs of habitation, where villages were, you know, it's kind of clear once you're up there, why a group of people would habitate there or stop there on their journey. It is again in this Valley, it kind of cuts through the mountains and sends you on your way into Mexico. So there's a lot of signs of habitation for many generations there. And, um, unfortunately, you know, archeologists are really still kind of in the beginning phases of learning about pre-Colombian habitation and California. There's a lot, we don't know. And a lot left to study,

Speaker 1: 07:05 Usual procedure had been followed and there had been consultation with the tribes for, for construction. Would that have created a major delay in building the wall?

Speaker 2: 07:14 I don't think it would result in a year's long delay, but it would certainly slow things down.

Speaker 1: 07:20 How have these protests been greeted? How have the protesters been treated?

Speaker 2: 07:26 So, you know, because the native groups themselves have the right to establishment, they have the right to practice their religion. And these are what they consider sacred sites. Border patrol, at least at first was not moving them off the land. A lot of the areas that one could use to get close to the, um, construction sites are public lands. People have the right to be on them. Uh, it's only right when you get to the wall itself, does that become, uh, quite tricky? So initially they were, you know, being greeted by border patrol, being told, please don't block the construction equipment, but you know, no restroom made nothing like that. Only recently when construction did get halted for a few days in a row, did they take a more adversarial role? They blocked protesters from even reaching those access roads. They interrogated them. And then more recently there had been a group of counter protestors, some who live near the wall itself and really do want to have this wall built, um, greeted protesters and things got pretty heated between them and border patrol. You know, essentially had to make sure that nothing disastrous happened. So active protests at the site are ongoing, but we'll see if they, they keep being able to, to stop construction and construction. As of this morning is ongoing as quickly as possible.

Speaker 1: 08:45 And how could the reported discovery of human remains at the site add strength to [inaudible] case against construction? Right? There is the

Speaker 2: 08:56 Law NAGPRA, which protects remains of native Americans. This was passed by Congress in 1990. It allows for the, the safe removal of remains that are found and I'm returning it to the tribe that those remains most likely belong to. So that's, you know, that's in, uh, the law and if that's being violated, obviously at least federal authorities or state authorities have the right to, um, move on that. Uh, but of course, to find any injunctive relief, they're going to have to bring this case to court, which they haven't done yet. Um, already the lawsuits that were challenging the wall in terms of the money that had been redirected from the department of defense for wall construction have been, um, given a stay by the Supreme court, which essentially is allowing lower court rulings, which are repeatedly finding that the Trump administration couldn't legally transfer these funds. The Supreme court says, well, let the construction keep going until we get a chance to review it, which at this point will most likely now be until next year.

Speaker 1: 09:59 Okay. Then I've been speaking with KPBS reporter, max Rivlin Nadler, max. Thank you.

Speaker 2: 10:04 Thank you.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.