Opinion: Tohono O'odham Nation's morality
"Of all the morally troubling aspects of the ongoing border crisis, the most disturbing has to be the growing migrant death toll, including on the Tohono O'odham reservation. Equally troubling is the tribal government's refusal to support humanitarian water stations on its land. The nation has long resisted taking a collective stand against water stations, but recent actions prove it also wants to squash individual action among the O'odham.

Over the last seven years, tribal leadership--with some justification--has chosen to blame the federal government for its border-related woes and has sought to receive financial compensation, thereby distracting everyone from the fact that it still refuses to put out water stations or support those who would do it themselves. And as social-justice advocates make clear, the Tohono O'odham do have a choice. They are simply making the wrong one.

In early September, Veronica Harvey, the tribe's Baboquivari District chair, ordered tribal law enforcement to remove three water stations maintained by Mike Wilson, an O'odham social-justice activist. The confiscation of Wilson's water stations should have provoked harsh condemnation from Chairman Ned Norris Jr. Norris could have made the case that migrant deaths affect all O'odham. Instead, Norris supported Harvey's authority to take such actions on the grounds that the "tribal Constitution authorizes each district to govern themselves on issues of local concern." The burning question is: Why?

It's difficult to know exactly why the tribal council has squandered its moral authority and refused to support water stations. Perhaps, as critics of the council like Mike Wilson have said, putting out water might upset the federal government's policy of militarizing the border. After all, the federal government still controls a significant portion of the O'odham budget. It stands to reason that the nation's politicians wouldn't want to bite the hand that feeds them."

Get the Story:
Kent Walker and Mark A. Rivera: Tohono O'odham leaders need to tackle the moral question of water and responsibility (The Tucson Weekly 10/16)

Related Stories:
Editorial: Tohono O'odham man tries to save lives (9/8)
Tohono O'odham man can't put out water for migrants (9/3)