By Helen Horvath
Photo, lefft: Dynamite charges set by the US Corps of Engineers
June 30, 2020 (Campo) – Yesterday, at the end of Tierra del Sol Road in the Campo area, a group of Kumeyaay-led people and supporters gathered early in the morning to protest the blasting of Kumeyaay cultural sites.
Many of these protesters, wearing masks due to COVID-19, were members of the Kumeyaay Original Peoples Alliance, American Indian Movement, and Warriors of Awareness. These groups participated out of concern for the ancestral history and culture of the Kumeyaay tribes. Black Lives Matter (BLM) and American Friends Service Committee also participated in the protest in a show of solidarity with local Native Americans. (Photo, right)
According to Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Jeff Stephenson, San Diego Sector, “The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was scheduled to conduct blasting along the border as part of the ongoing wall construction…We are working with the construction contractor to reschedule,” he added.
Photo, left: Old border wall next to blasting area for new wall construction
The protesters were able to access the border area through private property and the access road. The blasting was stopped for the day due to the protests. CBP removed the dynamite charges to ensure the safety of all present. According to CBP, the protesters were moved to a safe distance from the blast zone and then permitted to reenter the area after the dynamite was removed.
At issue is the right of the Kumeyaay groups to have a monitor to oversee any excavation of human remains, fossils, and artifacts that are from the Kumeyaay nation.
According to the organizer, Cyn Parada, “Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has not worked with these groups in good faith to permit monitors.” Parada stated that “many of the protest organizations are not directly sponsored tribal government groups.”
According to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents onsite the federal government has agreements with some area landowners to provide access to the previously built border wall. These walls were in the San Diego sector in 1990 and additional walls and barriers were built under the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Many of these properties used to be Kumeyaay tribal lands.
Photo, right: Border Patrol officers in blast area by old border walll
Parada, protest organizer, stated that a landowner believed that the protesters were on private property. (Protesters parked on an access road near the border wall).
According to Parada, the landowner threatened the group in front of CBP agents. She says he told her that he would “shoot us and slash (our) tires.” She alleged that the landowner further mentioned “leaving to get knives.” According to Parada, the incidents “went unchecked by CBP agents and the CBP agent actually shook the landowner’s hand after the incident.”
Photo, left: Section of new border wall completed at Tierra Del Sol Rd., Campo
The protesters told ECM that they saw heavily armed Mexican Police, now members of the Mexican National Guard, patrolling the Mexican side of the border. According to CBP agents onsite, the Mexican National Guard were patrolling the area to secure their border to protect Mexican citizens from the blasts, while the CBP worked to build the wall and secure the United States border with Mexico.
The current border wall construction project, sometimes known as the Trump wall, is part of a planned 450 mile $18.4 billion dollar federal government construction project. The current process of the contractors is to remove the old wall, dynamite the area where the replacement wall is supposed to be, and then install the new sections. Prior to being made aware of the protesters, the CBP had planned to blast the area in order to continue construction of the upgraded wall.
After initially being denied access to the border wall area where the protesters were; East County Magazine walked to the border wall with the permission of a landowner whose property stretched to the border wall access road easement. Her house is about three-quarters of a mile from the blast zone. The land in the area is former Kumeyaay tribal land or trade routes used by the ancestral tribal members to travel between the United States and Mexico. Next to the land is the border wall access road. According to the resident, the community was notified of the blasting via email and via direct contact. ECM did not receive any public notice or press release from the CBP regarding the blasting.
Photo, right: Blasting area by old border wall
Why does this matter to San Diego and the Kumeyaay Nation members protesting?
History. It is not only tribal history; it is the history of the San Diego region in question. Think about this. A person goes to visit their family’s plot at the cemetery. Instead of finding the grave intact, it is discovered that someone has desecrated the remains of relatives. Or the person finds that ancestral lands had human remains or artifacts on the land. What would this person think or do?
In the blast zone, a Kumeyaay protester found chippings (artifacts) during the protest. In cases where the artifacts or fossils are not recognized as historically important, history is lost. By unwittingly removing artifacts from a blast site, a part of San Diego’s history is erased. In the Kumeyaay tradition, artifacts and human bones belonging to ancestors are sacred and should be protected, remaining buried and undisturbed. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that Native American cultural resources be protected.
The attempts by protesters to bring attention to these issues is done to ensure that tribal heritage, ancestral fossils, and artifacts that could date back to 12,000 BC are preserved. This has been an ongoing struggle as the Kumeyaay work to regain their history that was stripped in the 1800s and later when indigenous people were forced to assimilate and not permitted to practice their own culture and rituals.
Besides the Kumeyaay history, this issue is about the rule of laws in California. In 1970, then Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA is a broad environmental law. A segment of the law is designed to assist regions to permits the preservation of fossils and artifacts to preserve history. The key demand has been to have a cultural monitor onsite that meets the requirements of CEQA. The protesters are also asking for soil testing to be done in the areas to ensure that no Kumeyaay human bones are in the construction zone area.
The official statement from the US Border Patrol states, “Based on prior environmental surveys and stakeholder coordination completed, no biological, cultural, or historical sites were identified within the blasting area located within the Roosevelt Reservation. In addition, CBP has and will continue to coordinate with federal land managers, state agencies, local governments, tribal governments, and other interested stakeholders.”
Photo, left: Roosevelt Reservation
NOTE: Roosevelt Reservation is a 60-foot-wide strip of land owned by the U.S. federal government on the U.S. side of the border, which is about 2,000 miles in length. It is also part of the Kumeyaay’s ancestral travel path between tribes in Baja California in Mexico and the present-day California/United States.
Photo, right: Protesters on Roosevelt Reservation along internatioal border
The Supervisory Border Patrol Agent further stated, (the) “CBP has a cultural monitor present at the construction site to ensure that if any previously unidentified culturally sensitive artifacts are observed within the project area that construction is halted and the appropriate stakeholders are notified to include tribal nations. In addition, the environmental monitor is present to ensure construction best management practices are being implemented by the construction contractor.”
At the end of the protest, the CBP agents onsite agreed to continue discussions and meet on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 to further discuss remaining issues. Prior to leaving the site, the protest group prayed and honored their ancestors near the demolition site.
The protesters will meet on July 1, 2020 at the Golden Acorn Casino parking lot at 8:30 a,m.
Dr. Helen Horvath is a published author, psychologist, and organizational development consultant. She has covered impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Native Americans, veterans and military members locally for East County Magazine. As a speaker, she has been invited to speak at the American Psychological Association Annual Conference, Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and other key professional organizations. Dr. Horvath is a published author on a variety of psychology and business related topics. She is a former marriage and family therapist and published a relationship book entitled “Put a Period to IT: When Divorce is the Option."
East County Magazine gratefully thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help make this reporting possible. #FacebookJournalismProject. You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.