The Tohono O'odham Nation, a Native American tribe in southern Arizona, has accused the Trump administration of not consulting them during the construction of the border wall running through their lands.
In a letter Feb. 7 to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. said the department should have engaged in "meaningful consultation" with Tohono O'odham leaders because funding for the barrier is coming out of the agency's budget.
"The Nation respectfully requests that DOD immediately engage in government-to-government consultation ... and that no appropriated funds be expended on border barrier construction activity until such consultation has occurred," Norris wrote in the letter, which was shared with NBC News.
The Tohono O’odham Nation — the tribe is the second-largest in the U.S., by land holdings — sits on an estimated 2.7 million acres in southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. Ancestral lands stretch across the border into the Mexican state of Sonora.
There are currently 40 miles planned for southern Arizona along Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the adjacent Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. This region is considered a UNESCO ecological preserve because a unique species of cactus flourishes there.
According to the Tohono O'odham Nation's historic records, the area was also once used for religious ceremonies by a tribe known as the Hia-C'ed O'odham, and it is where bodies of Apache and other indigenous fighters were buried. Recently a construction team working on the wall found human remains at their worksite.
"They're disturbing sacred areas," Norris said in an interview. "It's disgraceful to see how much blasting is going on and how the remnants of our ancestors are being disturbed by that blasting."
In addition to this, there are more incursions into sovereign territory by law enforcement, thanks to the Border Patrol's ramped up presence in the region.
“We’re only as sovereign as the federal government will allow us to be,” Verlon Jose, the Tohono O’odham Nation’s vice chairman said.