A section of border wall in Jacumba, Calif. / Image via Shutterstock

Protests by members of the Kumeyaay Nation have been postponing construction of a portion of the border wall in East County since the end of June.

The movement has been led by young Kumeyaay women, who say the government has ignored evidence of the cultural heritage sites they’re now building over.

“They’re using 10-year-old surveys to try to say that there aren’t sites in certain areas. And when we’ve gone out there to protest, we’ve seen mittensoil, which [are] signs of cremations, flakes, grinding stones,” 28-year-old Cynthia Parada, a tribal council member for the La Posta Band of Mission Indians, told KPBS.

Parada said the government is breaking the law by disregarding the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Congress enacted it in 1990 to protect and safely relocate native burial sites.

Last week, La Posta Band of Diegueno Mission Indians — one of the 12 bands of Kumeyaay people — filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Trump administration, seeking to stop any further construction of the border wall through the sacred burial lands.

“If these sacred places are allowed to be desecrated, Kumeyaay children will never be able to learn about these places, and thus would be deprived the opportunity to fully understand their cultural and religious heritage,” the lawsuit reads. “Defendants are currently constructing the border wall directly through Kumeyaay burial sites and sacred lands, causing irreversible and easily avoidable damage to Kumeyaay remains, cultural items, history, and religious practices.”

Jacumba, which is known to contain an ancient tribal cemetery, and Tecate, Mexico, a historical Kumeyaay village site, are both located in the path of the border wall project, according to the complaint. Prior cultural surveys and Kumeyaay historians have noted the existence of human remains and archaeological sites within the path of construction.

The complaint alleges that the government failed to provide notice or consult with La Posta about the project. La Posta only learned of the construction informally during an unrelated meeting with the Bureau of Land Management in March. U.S. Customs and Border Protection representatives had a phone call with tribal representatives in June, as well as a Zoom meeting in July, and invited tribal representatives to visit the site on July 10.

The tribe walked away from both those meetings feeling as though CBP hadn’t taken their concerns seriously and hadn’t evaluated the impacts of the construction. The CBP survey used to justify the project was from 2010 and not accurate, according to the complaint.

Tom Holm, the executive director of the Kumeyaay Heritage Preservation Council, told the Union-Tribune that a San Diego County medical examiner certified that some of the material discovered in the area was human, but that CBP insisted it was construction material or polyvinyl chloride pipe.

“Should culturally sensitive artifacts or human remains be identified during the San Diego border barrier project, CBP will coordinate with the appropriate tribes to determine an appropriate treatment plan and repatriation of artifacts and remains,” Jeffrey Stephenson, a supervisory Border Patrol agent in the San Diego sector, told the U-T.

Stephenson said the discovery of what could have been human remains was outside the immediate construction zone.

Earlier this year, the federal government blasted through Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to build the border wall, which contains ancestral grounds sacred to the Tohono O’odham Nation, and failed to consult with tribal leaders.

Fentanyl Deaths and Seizures on the Rise

San Diego County has seen an alarming spike in fatal overdoses.

In 2019, there were 152 fentanyl-related deaths. But in the first six months of this year, there were already 203 fentanyl-related deaths – 119 that have been confirmed and 84 that are pending — according to a recent press release from several local and federal law enforcement agencies.

Since January, law enforcement agencies in San Diego have seized over 12,000 kilograms of fentanyl and methamphetamine coming into the country, according to the press release.

Between June 2019 2020, the amount of methamphetamine seized at the border went up 10 while the amount of fentanyl went up by 11 percent, according to CBP.

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Maya was Voice of San Diego’s Associate Editor of Civic Education. She reported on marginalized communities in San Diego and oversees Voice’s explanatory...

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