At present we are looking to put together a local San Diego panel for the conference, which will present the work that different social, community and activist groups are doing in the area, that fits in with the theme of the conference. Here is one of the groups we're interested in inviting.
Kumeyaay border project brings benefits
Posted: August 28, 2006
by: Brenda Norrell / Indian Country Today
TUCSON, Ariz. - Kumeyaay in California are reuniting with Kumeyaay in Baja California, Mexico, with exchanges that benefit tribal members on both sides of the border. However, Kumeyaay now face a new threat on the border, since the United States has waived laws to construct the triple-layer border wall, which threatens tribal gravesites in southern California.
Speaking at a border workshop in Tucson, Louis Guassac, executive director of the Kumeyaay Border Task Force, said Kumeyaay are opposed to the current plan for construction of the border wall, which would ''plow through'' their ancestors' gravesites.
Guassac pointed out that the United States has done away with environmental and other laws that would protect the region and Kumeyaay ancestors in order to build the wall's third layer.
''They can plow right through there without any consciousness of the human remains there. Would they take their grandmothers' graves and bulldoze over them?'' Guassac asked.
''We are against the mistreatment of human remains and plowing them over with a machine,'' Guassac said, pointing out that Patriot Act laws now ''trump'' all other laws.
In September 2005, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced he was exercising his authority according to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Real ID Act of 2005, and waived certain legal requirements, including environmental and other laws. Chertoff said it was to ensure completion of the 14-mile Border Infrastructure System near San Diego, according to a statement by Homeland Security.
Kumeyaay, however, have lived in the region now referred to as southern California and northern Baja California, Mexico, since time immemorial.
''It has taken 300 years to suppress, divide and separate us,'' Guassac said of the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s and creation of the international border in 1848.
His comments came while conducting a workshop on border issues for the Tucson-based indigenous advocacy organization Alianza Indigena sin Fronteras/Indigenous Alliance without Borders at the University of Arizona's Department of Women's Studies. Pascua Yaqui, Tohono O'odham, Pima from Gila River and Yaqui from Mexico were among those who attended Aug. 18.
Guassac said Kumeyaay were taken away to boarding schools and forbidden to speak their language during the 1900s. With the Kumeyaay communities divided by the border, it became increasingly difficult to maintain their language, culture and traditions in the United States.
The reunion of Kumeyaay from north and south of the border is helping to revive the language and culture in the United States and providing some basic food necessities for Kumeyaay in Mexico.
There is, however, no quick fix for reviving language and culture, he said.
''We have to think long-term. There is no short-term fix. We are looking at eight generations down the road.''
Kumeyaay are now seeing more Kumeyaay at ceremonies than they have seen in 25 to 30 years because of the ongoing cross-border efforts.
Describing border passage problems for Kumeyaay, Guassac said since the beginning of Operation Gatekeeper in the 1990s, crossing the southern border has been more difficult. After Sept. 11, 2001, security measures at the border made passage even more difficult.
The Kumeyaay Border Task Force was entrusted with government-to-government consultations in an effort to obtain short-term border crossing visas for Kumeyaay in Mexico.
After years of efforts, the task force developed an informal agreement for Kumeyaay in Mexico to receive cultural visas, known as Laser Visas B1 and B2. The visa regulations include passage for cultural purposes. The visas are now are being used by the Yuman-speaking Kumeyaay and neighboring Pai Pai of Baja, Mexico, relatives of Yavapai in Arizona.
Currently, 680 Kumeyaay and Pai Pai have U.S. visas because of this effort. Guassac said the visas are restricted to the issue of ''pass and re-pass,'' a term used for those entering the United States for short periods for family, ceremonial and cultural purposes.
Once the government-to-government informal agreement was in place, the first hurdle was for Kumeyaay in Mexico to obtain Mexican passports. The task force transported 50 tribal members from Mexico to San Diego per trip. Kumeyaay chose the border port of entry at Tecate, Calif., for passage, known to be less violent than some ports of entry.
Meanwhile, Kumeyaay presented the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana, Mexico, with an orientation on the history and culture of the Kumeyaay. Still, there were many complications. For instance, non-Indian spouses of Kumeyaay in Mexico were not given U.S. visas. However, the United States requires that both parents must accompany children entering the United States or a lone parent must present a written affidavit from the other parent. This issue is resolved between individual parents and border agents.
There are parameters as well. ''If there is a smuggling issue or a drug issue, we don't get involved,'' Guassac said.
The Laser visas have proven to be secure against counterfeiting. Further, the visa effort resulted in a baseline census that has provided demographic benefits, he said.
Each Kumeyaay community in Mexico, where traditions remain intact, decides whether a person is Kumeyaay based on ancestry, traditions and cultural considerations. There is no blood quantum requirement.
Now, each Christmas, Kumeyaay in the United States deliver bundles of food staples in a semitrailer to their Kumeyaay relatives and Pai Pai neighbors in villages in northern Mexico. Local Kumeyaay coordinators in Mexico select food items.
The month of December was selected because the slowest time for Kumeyaay to obtain work is between November and March.
''It just happens to be Christmas,'' Guassac said. ''The food carries them through April.''
Guassac said the goal is not simply to deliver material goods to their relatives in Mexico. ''We don't want to be fishermen bringing them fish. We want to bring them tools.''
During the border workshop, Fidelia Flores, Yaqui from Bacum Pueblo in Sonora, Mexico, praised Kumeyaay efforts.
''I'm happy for what you have accomplished; it happened because of the good will of the Kumeyaay in the north.''
Flores said most Indians in Mexico whose communities are divided by the international border are not receiving assistance from their relatives in the north. ''The main obstacles are the tribal councils on this side,'' Flores said.
Flores, a retired village schoolteacher, said Yaqui in Sonora, Mexico, numbering 25,000 to 30,000, have not had the backing of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in the United States.
Flores said Yaqui in Sonora have relied on Yaqui ceremonial leader Jose Matus in Tucson, director of the Alianza Indigena sin Fronteras/ Indigenous Alliance without Borders, to assist with border passage for ceremonies.