Native American woman testifies that her religious beliefs justify a protest against the border wall | Local news

Amber Ortega, right, who tried to stop what she saw as a desecration of sacred lands near Quitobaquito Springs, is charged with obstructing the agency’s operations and violating a shutdown order, two misdemeanors. A judge said a verdict would likely be delivered by December 15.

Arizona Daily Star Danyelle Khmara

A woman from Tohono O’odham awaits a judge’s ruling on her right to remain on lands sacred to indigenous peoples after federal law enforcement asks her to leave.

Amber Ortega was arrested on September 9, 2020, along with Nellie Jo David, on charges after refusing to leave a construction site at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, about 150 miles southwest of Tucson, where contractors were building over 40 miles of 30 foot high steel curb wall.

The construction site was about an eighth of a mile from Quitobaquito Springs, a former sacred waterhole for the O’odhams.

The source is a lifeline for the O’odham people, said Lorraine Eiler, an expert on religious activities in the area where Ortega was arrested, who has held various positions in the tribal government and in associations. environmental issues since the 1980s.

“For us, this is our church,” Eiler said as a defense witness during Ortega’s trial Thursday at the federal courthouse in Tucson. “The whole region is our church. We don’t need a building or structure above us to pray.

The day Ortega was arrested, she had gone to the spring to sing and pray. When she heard heavy machinery nearby, she ran towards construction equipment to stop what she considered to be desecration of sacred land, she said.

Ruth R. Culp