Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Archaeologists Say Border Wall Cuts Through Native American Burial Sites In Arizona


The Trump administration is racing to build border fences in southern Arizona to the consternation of local archaeologists. They have found bone fragments nearby thought to belong to ancient Native Americans. Now some worry the construction crews will damage more remains. From member station KJZZ, Michel Marizco reports.

MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Construction crews building the new fence within the mostly wild Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument started blasting on the monument's border with Mexico in late January. It's a site of significance to the neighboring Native American tribe. The federal government calls it a limited detonation zone and says it's necessary to loosen the soil so contractors can sink in footers for the 30-foot-tall border fence currently going up.


MARIZCO: The local Border Patrol chief in nearby Tucson posted this video of the blasting to his Twitter account. He said the detonations are only happening on a slice of the border region called the Roosevelt Reservation, a 60-foot-wide strip of federally owned property that runs along the southwestern border. The hill where the crews are blasting is called Monument Hill. It's where the Tohono O’odham Tribe would scatter the bones of raiding Apaches they killed in battle.

RICK MARTYNEC: They killed Apache warriors. They would take - bring the warriors up to the top of the hill and just leave them.

MARIZCO: That's Rick Martynec, an archeologist who's worked in the area 30 years. He says fragments of bone from those people are still found on Monument Hill. Martynec says tribal archaeologists have long found human remains there. The Border Patrol said it has a monitor on site, but that they have found no evidence of cultural or historical sites.

MARTYNEC: I don't know how they could have missed them.

MARIZCO: Last November, the National Park Service found human remains near artifacts thousands of years old in a spring near where the border fence is going up, about 6 miles from the current blasting site. Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, who sits on the Natural Resources Committee, says federal officials assured the tribe the blasting wouldn't happen.

RAUL GRIJALVA: There was a direct response to the chairman saying, no, we're not going to blast anything - and then within a short period of time, it happened.

MARIZCO: Grijalva and the O’odham tribal government want to create exceptions to the Real ID Act, the federal rule that allows Homeland Security to bypass restrictions to building a border fence. Last spring, the government used that power to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws, including one that dictates how Native American remains are treated.

For NPR News, I'm Michel Marizco in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.