UA Book Explores Challenges U.S. Borders Pose to Native Nations

The UA’s Native Nations Institute offers insight into the multifaceted effects border policies have on Native Nations living along U.S. borders.
Jan. 25, 2012
The book includes examples of Native nations’ attempts to adapt to border policies and, when possible, to impact that discussion.
The book includes examples of Native nations’ attempts to adapt to border policies and, when possible, to impact that discussion.
The book, “Native Nations and U.S. Borders: Challenges to Indigenous Culture, Citizenship, and Security,” offers insight into the challenges U.S. border policies have upon Native nations.
The book, “Native Nations and U.S. Borders: Challenges to Indigenous Culture, Citizenship, and Security,” offers insight into the challenges U.S. border policies have upon Native nations.
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For Indigenous peoples living near U.S. borders, Indigenous ideas, practices and relationships – many of them multiple centuries old – often meet head-on with U.S. border policies.

The University of Arizona's Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy has published a new book that provides a timely and thought-provoking discussion of the effects the U.S. borders and border policies with Mexico, Canada and Russia have on Native nations situated near those borders.

For example, the authors note that while the Tohono O'odham Nation of south-central Arizona extends tribal citizenship to more than 1,000 individuals living in nine traditional O'odham communities in Mexico, these people are at risk for arrest and deportation when they go to the nation's capitol at Sells to use tribal services such as health care or to vote in the nation's elections.

The Yaqui Indians living in small settlements in Arizona maintain a common identity and culture with the far greater population of Yaquis in Mexico through shared ceremonies and rituals.

The Deer Dance brings Sonoran Yaquis north, while the Magdalena Festival is a southern pilgrimage for Arizona Yaquis heading into Mexico, creating one of the busiest border crossing days of the year in southern Arizona.

While this movement back and forth is a critical element in Yaqui cultural survival, increased border security activities make it harder and harder to maintain. Ceremonial leaders and Yaqui citizens are regularly stopped and sometimes denied passage across the border, and ceremonial materials may be confiscated or improperly handled. The border also impedes access to Yaqui sacred sites.

The institute's book, "Native Nations and U.S. Borders: Challenges to Indigenous Culture, Citizenship, and Security," examines the policies that affect Indigenous citizenship and crossing rights, public health and safety, environmental and natural resources management, and many other areas.

"Clearly, the distinctive issues that border nations are facing go far beyond legal and political considerations," said Stephen Cornell, director of the Udall Center and co-author of the book. "These borders are many-layered and also cut across peoples and relationships every day."

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The Native Nations Institute for Leadership, Management and Policy was founded in 2001 by the Morris K. Udall Foundation (now Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation) and is housed at the Udall Center at the UA. It serves as a self-determination, governance and development resource for Indigenous nations in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere. 

According to the authors, policy discussions about U.S. borders seldom include Native voices or take Native views into account and they rarely address how policies designed to protect international borders drastically affect the Native nations near those borders.

Native nations in the U.S. are sovereign governments, with legitimate rights to a voice in the discussion of border policies. The book includes examples of Native nations' attempts to both adapt to border policies and, when possible, to impact that discussion.

"Native nations near U.S. borders need to have more information – and to be sharing information – on how nations in similar situations have dealt with border-related issues," said Rachel Starks, Native Nations Institute senior researcher and a co-author of the book.

In the book, the authors also look to inform discussions of border policy at all levels of government – tribal, local, state and federal – and is intended to be a resource to Indigenous leaders; federal, state and municipal policy-makers and authorities; researchers; and nongovernmental organizations involved in border regions.

"Our book discusses some of the important issues that border nations have faced and the ways – such as through tribal and intergovernmental partnerships – that many of them have dealt with these concerns," said Starks.

Said Cornell: "In our conclusions, we implore these entities to include tribes at the decision-making table."