There’s more than one way to skin a buffalo… or stop a border wall’s construction.
Instead of taking the feds to court or holding a rally or a march, the Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of South Texas have come up with a novel way to halt the construction of President Trump’s border wall: Tell the workers to stop working.
On Monday, Tribal Chair Juan B. Mancias issued a cease and desist order to employees working for a border wall subcontractor, a geological survey company called Southwest Drilling. The crew was taking core samples from the ground near Mission, Texas, on land Mancias and his tribe have laid claim to, the historic Eli Jackson Cemetery. The tribe's efforts were successful. The crew packed up their equipment and left.
“Well what helped, too, was that it started raining. The Creator helped us out a little bit, and made them leave,” Mancias told Indian Country Today.
Mancias says he believes this is the first time construction on a controversial project has been stopped in this way. In a video posted to Facebook, Carrizo-Comecrudo ally Robert Rosa, whose Taino name is Opia Guaribo, is seen serving the cease and desist order to the foreperson of the drilling crew.
Although the noise of the drilling equipment makes their words nearly impossible to understand, Rosa is seen showing the foreperson what the paper says and apparently telling her it’s illegal for them to continue drilling.
The foreperson appears to use her cellphone to take a photo of the document and calls something to her crew, who begin taking down the drilling machine. The foreperson hands the paper back to Rosa and packs up to leave. At that moment the rain starts falling so hard it blurs the picture.
The crew member can be heard saying, “We’re leaving ‘cause it’s raining and that’s the only reason we’re leaving.”
Carrizo-Comecrudo member Julia Blackowl can be heard giving a war hoop as the rain begins falling heavily and the crew prepares to leave.
Forked tongue of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency issued a statement in June saying they will avoid going through the historic Eli Jackson Cemetery where many of the tribe’s ancestors are buried.
The statement came shortly after the Associated Press published a story about how the construction of the border wall will destroy parts of the Eli Jackson cemetery and the Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery, which is just down the road.
Descendants of the Jackson family and leaders of the Carrizo-Comecruedo tribe had previously filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration regarding the wall.
However, last week survey stakes appeared in the cemetery that seem to be marking off the 150-foot buffer zone on one side of the pending wall. The buffer zone covers an area of the cemetery containing marked graves, which would have to be exhumed and moved if construction of the wall proceeds.
Mancias says he thinks the Customs and Border Protection Agency’s announcement in June was just a trick and says the survey stakes prove it.
“That was all a ploy to make sure that we would leave and say, ‘Okay, we won.’ Well, I didn’t buy it and I’m not going to because I don’t buy half the things they say, especially Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Mancias said.
Another indication of the agency’s true intention was the appearance of the drilling crew taking core samples every eighth or quarter of a mile near the levee. In addition to serving the cease and desist order on the drilling crew, Mancias states he and his allies will post one on the door of the Southwest Drilling office and send a copy certified mail.
They intend to issue a similar order to the survey company they believe is responsible for planting the survey stakes in the cemetery last week.
Trump’s wall meets the Native wall
Mancias and his tribe say they plan to file documents in federal court that they feel will establish their right to be consulted and to grant informed consent before the wall is constructed. Once those papers are submitted, they will then issue cease and desist orders to any construction crew working on the wall.
The cease and desist orders will form a legal wall protecting Carrizo-Comecrudo land, which they say includes all of Hidalgo, Starr and Cameron counties in South Texas.
Whether the tribe’s claims will hold up in court remains to be seen. The tribe is not recognized by the federal government, although for many years they’ve had an elected tribal council and an office.
In the meantime, Mancias hopes construction will be stopped while the court makes its determination. The maneuver will also force Customs and Border Protection to officially announce their intentions.
“They refuse to talk to us, so we’re going to force their hand,” Mancias explained. “They want to intimidate people and I’m not going to be intimidated. I can use the law, too.”
Mancias believes President Trump’s unnecessary and destructive border wall will soon collide head-on with the Carrizo-Comecruedo wall of ancient authority and modern legal acumen. After eight months of occupying a camp next to the Eli Jackson Cemetery, Mancias and his allies are not about to give up.
“It’s all about tradition. It’s all about taking care of our ancestors. I mean, we’ve put up with the heat, 122 degrees. Today’s a little cooler. We’ve had a little rain. But the rain came at the same time that we presented the letter. It was like even the Creator said, ‘You’ve got to stop!’”
Although the drilling crew had little respect for the authority of the Carrizo-Comecrudo, they did seem to respect the liquid authority of the Creator that fell from the sky. Water is life.
The U.S, Customs and Border Protection Agency did not respond to a request for comment before this story was published.
Frank Hopper is a Tlingit, Kaagwaantaan, freelance writer, born in Juneau, Alaska, and raised in Seattle. He now lives in Tacoma.