Feb 10 • 38M

Blockading the Border Bulldozers: Amber Lee Ortega on Hia Ced O'odham Resistance

In this audio interview Ortega discusses why she chose to face a judge in order to protect a sacred spring on the Arizona-Mexico Border.

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Todd Miller
The Border Chronicle podcast is hosted by Melissa del Bosque and Todd Miller. Based in Tucson, Arizona, longtime journalists Melissa and Todd speak with fascinating fronterizos, community leaders, activists, artists and more at the U.S.-Mexico border.
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A quick reminder to readers that in case you missed it on Tuesday, please check out Melissa’s vivid recounting of what is happening on the south Texas border and at the National Butterfly Center. I suggest reading all the way to the absurd and intense confrontation at the end.

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On September 9, 2020, Tohono and Hia Ced O’odham members Amber Lee Ortega and Nellie Jo David were at the sacred Quitobaquito Springs, located on the U.S. side of the border in southern Arizona, when they heard the loud beeping sounds. Their response was automatic: both women jumped to their feet and ran to blockade an earthmover that had come to clear the way for the border wall. In the following audio interview, Ortega recounts this with vivid and personal detail, including a back-and-forth she had with officials who kept asking her to leave, to which she kept responding by asking them to leave. The ancestral land of the O’odham spans from Arizona to deep in the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The O’odham people, who have lived in this region for thousands of years, were not consulted when the border was drawn by the U.S. government, bisecting their land, in the mid 19th century.

In the interview, Ortega discusses the trial that followed their arrest and the surprising not-guilty verdict (she was charged with two misdemeanors) rendered in January. Throughout the discussion she weaves in the bigger picture: what the border is and what its ever-intensifying enforcement has meant for the O’odham people, and her deeply spiritual journey in resisting it from a young age (including speaking to agents in the O’odham language). Given the court ruling, Ortega’s resistance might now have set a precedent for fighting the border apparatus.

And lastly, to note, due to some audio difficulties we had to record this interview twice. So many thanks to Amber Lee Ortega for making time in her busy life as a student to do so. The audio challenges returned a little bit during the second recording, but luckily we did a backup! Please enjoy.

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