Kildee Claims Bill Amendment "Breaks Promise"   

by James May
Indian Country Today 
15 October 2004

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The United States House of Representatives approved a Republican- sponsored amendment that would waive the laws protecting American Indian sacred sites in the construction of a security barrier just south of San Diego on the U.S./Mexico border.

The amendment passed the House of Representatives by a 256 to 160 vote and seeks to waive several federal laws governing construction along the last three miles of the proposed 14-mile security barrier including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the National Historic Preservation Act. In all 215 of 221 Republicans in the House voted for the amendment.

''By enacting federal laws and implementing federal mandates, we promised Native Americans that we would protect and preserve their places of worship, resting places for the deceased and religious freedom. This amendment breaks that promise by not providing any mechanism for notice or consultation upon finding any cultural, ceremonial or historical sites,'' said Rep. Dale Kildee, one of the most vocal critics of the amendment.

The security barrier has its origins in legislation passed by congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996 to build such a barrier and the bill's supporters claim that they are just expediting the original mandate.

The amendment virtually guarantees that the federal builders of the security fence could disregard these laws if any sacred sites, burial grounds or historically important artifacts are found while building the last three miles of the barrier.

The amendment's author, Rep. Doug Ose, R-Calif., contends the barrier is essential to national security. Ose's Press Secretary Megan Taormino referred the matter to a press release that contained the congressman's floor statements, in which Ose stressed the security barrier as essential to prevent potential terrorists from entering the United States.

''We can't afford to wait,'' said Ose in the press release.

Also in the press release Ose cited a ''a merry-go-round of endless litigation and stalling tactics have shut down construction and blocked the permitting process under the guise of protecting the environment.''

Ose went on to claim that the environment in the area has already been negatively effected and specifically lists the Tijuana Estuary as being particularly damaged by ''illegal traffic.''

Ose's statements, however, do not directly address the suspension of NAGPRA for this project and his press secretary did not return requests for further comment before press time.

Though he claims that there are environmental issues at stake Kildee's Press Secretary Peter Karafotas said his boss' main concern is the protection of sacred sites and burial grounds.

However, Karafotas also said that the environmental concerns are equally important, especially in light of the fact that the proposed construction area abuts the coastal zone and power is taken away from the California Coastal Commission to enforce existing laws.

In fact Karafotas said all his boss wanted to do was make sure that existing laws are enforced regarding federal construction projects.

Karafotas also said his boss fears the precedent that such a law could set for other sacred areas and burial sites across the nation.

''It's just too big a risk,'' said Karafotas. ''If remains or sites are found while they [build the barrier] tribes will not have to be consulted and the laws governing their protection will be thrown right out.''

Though he concedes that no sites have yet been found along the proposed construction site, Karafotas also contends that given the large and long-standing American Indian presence in the area - San Diego County has 18 tribes - it increase the chances that culturally-sensitive sites might be found.

Indian Country Today October 15, 2004. All Rights Reserved


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.