Beautifully written by Douglas Main with powerful imagery by photographer Ash Ponder, I share snippets that speak to the heart of the Living Being that is the Sonoran Desert and the decimation of both land and culture that its guardian people, the O'odham, now face. I hope you will follow the link to view and read the whole thing... It speaks to a critical tipping point for an area that exists nowhere else in the world. When it's gone, it's gone... And for what? To make a few white men rich and feed an emperor's vanity.
A classic, wretched old story...
White Man's ignorance is a dead-end road. We are already there.
But we are a stubborn bunch. As long as there is mud in the pond, we will continue to scrape.
Midway down a cactus-covered hill in one of the driest parts of Arizona is a miracle: a spring. Water continually streams out of the ground, down a small channel, and into a pond.
Quitobaquito Springs, as the area is known, is one of the only reliable above-ground water sources in the Sonoran Desert. This oasis long provided water to the Hia-Ced O’odham, a tribe indigenous to the area, and records of human use and habitation go back more than 10,000 years. It’s also home to two endangered species found nowhere else in the United States: The Sonoyta pupfish and Sonoran mud turtle.
“The spring is regarded as sacred, a living element provided to all from our Elder teacher,” says tribal elder Ophelia Rivas, referring to the O’odham Creator God.
But this once-quiet spot within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is in trouble. The flow of water, in slow decline since the 1980s, has dropped about 30 percent since March. The pond is at its lowest level in more than a decade, exposing mud flats throughout—a potentially urgent situation for its endangered animal inhabitants.
The pond is 200 feet from the U.S.-Mexico border, and contractors have already dug a six-foot trench for an electrical grid within a stone’s throw of it. Walls are going up several miles to the east of the spring in Organ Pipe and to the west in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. As construction advances closer to the spring, many people fear that the large quantities of groundwater that contractors withdraw to make concrete for the wall could exacerbate falling water tables and dry up the spring. Quitobaquito is probably fed in part by a regional aquifer that’s already been drawn down by agriculture.
“It’s unbelievable; it’s just horrible; it’s going down and down,” says Christina Andrews, a Hia-Ced O’odham leader, of the spring flow and pond level. She’s visited the spring since childhood, and has never seen it so depleted. “It feels like a violation of innocence.”
The wall construction uses a lot of water to suppress dust and to mix concrete for the base. For a stretch of wall built a few miles east near Lukeville in 2008, Customs and Border Patrol estimated construction used up to 710,000 gallons per mile of fence. More may be necessary now, since the new wall is twice as high. To put this number in context, it would take about 70 days for Quitobaquito to produce enough water for one mile of fence.
Border Patrol spokesperson Dyman says that at the moment, the agency “does not calculate the amount of water usage per mile of construction.”
The O’odham intensely oppose construction on this sacred land, which also contains a sizable tribal graveyard that is centuries old. While nobody lives at the springs anymore, it’s still used regularly for ceremonies and to pay homage to ancestors. Once difficult to access, the spring now has a road running past it. Large trucks and heavy machinery rumble by continually—and soon, contractors plan to build the 30-foot wall, illuminated by lights powered by electric lines in the already completed trench.
The area around the springs was sold without Hia-Ced tribal consensus to the government in the 1950s and became part of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The O’odham are not only upset about what they see as the desecration of Quitobaquito, but the dozens of miles of fence already put up elsewhere throughout their historic homelands, separating tribal members from their relatives in Mexico. They were particularly outraged when Border Patrol contractors blew up ground in Monument Hill, to the east of the spring in Organ Pipe. The hill contains ancestral graves and a shrine to children.
There's a fabulous little treasure-trove of a book to learn about the O'odham Children's Shrine, their sacred mountain--home to I'itoi, Their legends and creation stories, the Yaquis (Yoeme), Native Christianities, La Corua, and other rich stuff:
Beliefs and Holy Places - A Spiritual Geography of the Pimeria Alta,
by James S. ("Big Jim" ) Griffith