Sacred Indigenous Springs in Danger Amidst Border Wall Legal Battle


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Located in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the Quitobaquito Springs are estimated to have existed for over 10,000 years. [1] The Springs are the largest in the monument and a rare source of freshwater in the Sonoran Desert. Additionally, they are home to a number of endangered species. The Quitobaquito pupfish (Cyprinodon eremus) is native to the springs and cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. [2]

The Quitobaquito Springs are also a historic, sacred site for the Tohono O’odham and the Hia C-ed O’odham. [3] The construction of the border wall spans 30 miles of the monument and involves digging trenches, widening roads, and pumping groundwater in order to make cement. [4] In addition to disrupting local wildlife and jeopardizing endangered species, the border wall also harms the cultural resources that are of significant importance to the Tohono O’odham Nation. The plants that thrive around the spring have been historically used by O’odham peoples as medicine, but the plants are now threatened by a lack of water. [5]

In the case of Trump v. Sierra Club, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court for a stay on an injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. [6] The district court enjoined the Department of Defense from using money transferred to it by the Secretary of Defense for use in constructing the border wall. The legal basis for the injunction was that the Secretary of Defense exceeded his statutory authority in transferring said funds. [7] The stay would allow the Trump administration to continue with the use of emergency funding for the border wall. The Tohono O’odham Nation motioned for leave by the Supreme Court to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the respondents and their opposition to the stay on July 19th, 2020. In their amicus brief, the Tohono O’odham Nation attempted to illustrate the significant and irreparable harm that would befall the Nation if the Court granted the Trump administration’s request for a stay. [8] In the brief, the Nation presents the ways in which the construction of the border wall is a threat to their natural and cultural resources, the environment, and a threat to the Nation’s public safety with regards to their proximity to the border. [9] The Court ultimately granted the request to stay on July 26th, 2019, and the case went back to the lower courts until July 2020, when it was brought once again before the Supreme Court. The Court upheld their previous decision and denied the motion to lift the stay. Thus, indigenous activist groups along the border have resorted to demonstrations of protest at the border wall’s construction sites. Two Hia-Ced O’odham activists were arrested near Quitobaquito Springs by preventing machinery from moving, thus blocking construction. [10] However, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Trump v. Sierra Club again after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit affirmed the Northern District of California Court’s ruling. [11] The legal battle continues, leaving the affected indigenous groups to fend for themselves, uncertain about the future of their historic homeland.


1. Quitobaquito Springs, National Parks Service (U.S. Department of the Interior). https://www.nps.gov/orpi/learn/historyculture/quitobaquito-springs.htm (Jun. 24, 2018). 2. Id. 3. Id. 4. Alisa Reznick, 'A worst-case scenario': leaks, dust, water pumping and drought plague Quitobaquito, Arizona Public Media (Jul. 23, 2020), https://news.azpm.org/p/news-articles/2020/7/23/177114-a-worst-case-scenario-leaks- dust-water-pumping-and-drought-plague-quitobaquito/ 5. Emma Gibson, Indigenous group reaffirms importance of Quitobaquito Springs amid border wall construction, Arizona Public Media (Mar. 13, 2020), https://news.azpm.org/p/news-topical-nature/2020/3/13/167643-indigenous- group-reaffirms-importance-of-quitobaquito-springs-amid-border-wall-construction/ 6. Trump v. Sierra Club, Ballotpedia, https://ballotpedia.org/Trump_v._Sierra_Club#Footnotes

7. Id. 8. Brief for Tohono O’odham Nation at 1, Trump v. Sierra Club 9. Brief for Tohono O’odham Nation, supra note 8, at 2 10. Alisa Reznick, Indigenous activists arrested in demonstration against border wall construction near Quitobaquito Springs, Arizona Public Media (Sep. 10, 2020), https://news.azpm.org/s/80016-indigenous-activists-arrested-in- demonstration-against-border-wall-construction-near-quitobaquito-springs/ 11. Trump v. Sierra Club, Ballotpedia

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