Killing of Native American Man Stirs Anger at Border Patrol

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Raymond Mattia, a resident of a remote corner of the Tohono O’odham reservation in southern Arizona, was shot and killed by Border Patrol agents in May. The incident has caused outrage among the Tohono O’odham Nation, who have long held resentment towards the presence of the federal agency on their Native American territory. The tribe has been subjected to frequent questioning and detainment at border security checkpoints, leading to fear and distrust among its members.

However, Tohono O’odham leaders have acknowledged the Border Patrol as an ally in combating drug and human smuggling on the reservation. The tribe has experienced significant damage to its land and has incurred millions of dollars in additional work for its police force due to smuggling activities. The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector chief patrol agent, John R. Modlin, has emphasized the importance of tribal partnerships in their national security mission.

The shooting of Mr. Mattia has drawn attention from other tribes near the border, forcing their leaders to confront their own mixed feelings towards the federal presence. Tribal members express concerns about the potential for violence from both cartels and border patrol agents.

The Tohono O’odham people have a long history in the Sonoran desert, but the establishment of the border split their traditional lands. Over the years, the Border Patrol has erected surveillance towers and substations on the reservation, leading to encounters between tribal members and agents. The tribe resisted the construction of a border wall under the Trump administration, resulting in a border marked by X-shaped vehicle barriers and a bollard fence.

The exact circumstances surrounding Mr. Mattia’s death remain unclear. Tribal police requested assistance from the Border Patrol after hearing gunshots in Mr. Mattia’s village. The agents and a tribal police officer approached Mr. Mattia’s house, and an altercation ensued, resulting in his fatal shooting. The officers claim that Mr. Mattia threw a sheathed machete towards them and made a threatening gesture with his arm, while his family maintains that he was unarmed and posed no threat.

The shooting of a tribal member on tribal lands presents a unique case. The Biden administration has made efforts to strengthen ties with tribes and improve the investigation process for Border Patrol shootings. The administration disbanded the secretive “critical incident teams” within the Border Patrol and implemented body cameras for federal law enforcement agencies. However, Mr. Mattia’s family remains skeptical of the investigations and has struggled to obtain answers from both the tribal government and the Border Patrol.

In response to the shooting, Mr. Mattia’s family and supporters held a small protest near a Border Patrol station, demanding justice for his death. The family describes him as a loving father and grandfather, and they are calling for a thorough and transparent investigation into the incident. The case highlights the complex relationship between tribes and the Border Patrol, as well as the need for accountability and trust-building measures moving forward.

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