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This Indigenous Activist Is Fighting Trump's Wall With YouTube

As a sovereign nation that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, the Tohono O’odham face unique problems in the face of Trump’s extreme stance on immigration.

by Braudie Blais-Billie
May 24 2017, 8:00pm

Photo via Hon'mana Seukteoma.

For 21-year-old Hon'mana Seukteoma, YouTube was an exercise in connection born from homesickness. "I went to a school off the reservation and it was really scary for me — it was a culture shock," Seukteoma explains. Attending the University of Arizona was the first time she went to a school off the Tohono O'odham reservation, her nation's homeland. "I wanted to interact with my people again. I wanted to talk in our language, use our slang, talk about food and music, all of that."

As a Tohono O'odham woman, Seukteoma's channel explores her experiences in higher education, Native humor skits, and PSAs against cultural appropriation. In light of recent events, her videos have taken a political turn.

Just five days into his presidency, Trump signed two executive orders to set in motion his contentious yet bestselling campaign promise: building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The administration's proposed budget also contains a $1.6 billion request for Congress to build the wall. This proposed wall will run directly through the Tohono O'odham Nation — a tribe with a reservation the size of Connecticut that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border — and poses a plethora of ethical, political, and environmental problems.

In her 18-minute video, "A 'Letter' to Tohono O'odham; Trump's Wall," Seukteoma addressed her nation's formal opposition of Trump's executive order and expressed her personal fears of the proposed wall, which included the complications of opening indigenous issues to the public.

"A lot of non-Native peoples were basically going to Standing Rock and treating it as if it was Burning Man — they would leave all behind their trash and come to party," she explains in the video. "The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe urged our chairpeople to be very careful when we call for help because that might happen to us."

Though the U.S.-Mexico border has had longtime issues with customs, drugs, and human trafficking, the increased militarization surrounding Trump's wall is an issue of Tohono O'odham safety.

Seukteoma addressed her nation's formal opposition of Trump's executive order and expressed her personal fears of the proposed wall.

"There are border patrol agents who are already on the reservation and it's a big issue within itself," Seukteoma points out. "We have ancestral homelands reaching into Mexico that houses some of our enrolled tribal members. The wall and militarization would split up families and disrupt ceremonies."

Of the 34,000 Tohono O'odham tribal members, 28,000 live in the U.S. and maintain their religious and familial ties to Mexico through burial sites and ceremony.

Complications from habitat fragmentation and pollution are already plaguing land surrounding the border due to physical barriers and enforcement introduced by 2006's Secure Fence Act. Seukteoma believes Trump's plans will further harm her homeland. "There's scarring of the land that will happen during construction of the wall, which will ruin sacred sites and endanger ecosystems and animals."

Along with educating her audience, which is primarily indigenous millennials, Seukteoma has joined a grassroots activist group to further fight for her nation's sovereignty.

The anxiety-inducing reality faced by Seukteoma and the Tohono O'odham Nation is sadly nothing new in indigenous history. From the toxic uranium mining that spanned decades on the Navajo nation to the threat of water contamination faced by the Standing Rock Sioux, Native American communities are often exploited for what very few resources they have left post-colonization. Though Trump's legal power regarding the 75-mile stretch of Tohono O'odham land is murky, there is a possibility that Congress could remove the tribe's land from their "trust" as a dependent domestic nation if it's condemned.

Along with educating her audience, which is primarily indigenous millennials, Seukteoma has joined a grassroots activist group to further fight for her nation's sovereignty. Indivisible Tohono was recently established by four Tohono O'odham women and aims to help tribal members organize around issues from O'odham voter registration to lawful protests.

"I helped with the protest we held outside of Senator John McCain's office in Tucson to formally and publicly oppose Trump's wall," Seukteoma says. The YouTuber documented the Arizona protest, highlighting the efforts of her community with her trademark candor and accessibility. "[Indivisible Tohono] has also connected with the Indigenous Peoples Power Project to organize a nonviolent direct action training for interested tribal members."

When it comes to non-Tohono O'odham allies, Seukteoma has solid advice. "If anyone wants to be an ally and stand with the O'odham on this issue, you need to be open to learning. You need to be open to hearing from people who live on the reservation and have experienced this issue with the border first-hand."

As a burgeoning indigenous activist, Seukteoma's channel will continue to fight Trump's wall and her nation's staunch opposition to it. For her, simply opening up a dialogue about the issue has been tremendously productive.

"The dream for [my YouTube channel] is to start a community of Native YouTubers," she says. "It's amazing to see Native people comment and share their views on the same thing that you're talking about, but they live all the way across the country. It's important to see ourselves represented."

Tagged:
YouTube
mexico
Impact
indigenous rights
Native American Reservations
Trump border wall