Before Mexico, before the United States, before the Tohono O’odham were a federally recognized tribe, and long before the era of modern border security, the Tohono O’odham — desert people, they call themselves — lived in what is now southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. For thousands of years there was no border, and even after its creation, it had little impact on the tribe.
But today, the tribe is divided. A security fence separates their ancestral lands and citizens, and the Border Patrol monitors their territory so closely that tribal members cannot cross freely to conduct business, attend religious or spiritual gatherings, or visit family and friends. Today, the tribal government spends $3 million annually on border security, and the tribal police force spends half its time on border-related issues, including illegal drugs and immigrants. Border freedom is a privilege reserved only for dogs.
During President Donald Trump’s campaign, when “the wall” was arguably his hottest issue, a brief media storm passed over the reservation. Reporters parachuted in and painted a simple picture, saying the tribe was opposed to the border wall and, therefore, largely against border security. The first part is true; the latter, less so. Popular opinion and the tribal government are nearly unified in their anti-wall stance: “Over my dead body we will build a wall,” the Tohono O’odham Vice Chairman Verlon Jose famously said. But the wall is only a small piece of the border puzzle. When it comes to O’odham approaches to border security, the opinions of people are as diverse as the desert is dry.