by Max Rivlin-Nadler / KPBS
Just before dawn on Friday, members of the Kumeyaay Nation set out to protest the construction of a border wall atop their ancestral lands in the Laguna Mountains.
The youth-led group said the government has refused to consult with them to identify possible heritage sites they say the massive construction project is now destroying.
“We found midden soil, which is signs of cremation, which is our remains. We found tools and flakes and stuff that symbolizes there are villages in this area and that our people stayed here,” said Cynthia Parada, a councilwoman with the La Posta band of Mission Indians. “Usually when they stay here, they’re buried here as well. So we have a lot here. A lot of culture in this area.”
The construction project is being handled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, after the Trump Administration reallocated money from the Department of Defense for Border Wall construction.
The protesters were told the army would be skipping a consultation with the tribe for “national security” reasons.
The Border Patrol has said it relies on cultural monitors to ensure that artifacts aren’t destroyed. But on Friday morning, there were no monitors on-site as construction continued.
For hours, Kumeyaay protesters blocked the path of construction vehicles that were moving into the area. One operator of a water truck sprayed water at protesters before leaving.
Protesters said they were blocking construction vehicles to buy time for a legal challenge to the wall construction.
“They’re infringing on our religious freedom to be able to keep our cultural areas, our sacred areas, where we go and pray, and we’re tired of losing them,” Parada said.
Customs and Border Protection has not yet responded to a request for comment.