Recently I polled 38 young children – ages 4 to 12 – asking them to name 5 famous Native Americans. Most, of course, knew the historical figures: Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, and Squanto. When asked to name Native people alive today, only a handful had an answer and, for over half, it was Wilma Mankiller. Not one child knew of the Native American astronaut, race car driver, golfer or Olympic figure skater. And when I said there was a Native American rap artist, they were astonished!
, the Lipan Apache human rights defender, and the only Native American woman and individual to counter-sue the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Customs Border Patrol against the construction of the U.S. border wall, in Tamez v. Michael Chertoff et al. To this day she staunchly defends Aboriginal Title of Lipan Apaches, and challenges the U.S. claims to sovereignty in Indigenous lands and over Indigenous Nations in the U.S. courts and in the Inter-American Commission/Organization of American States.
Prof Tamez is a Lipan Apache elder. Her people are the native inhabitants of a region that includes present-day Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas prior to the 17th century. Prof Tamez was raised in a traditional indigenous community, on a land grant acknowledged by the King of Spain in 1767. Since 2008 she has become famous for resisting the implementation of a border-wall that runs across the Texas/Mexican border, across her traditional homelands, but furthermore across the back yard of her modest three acre block in El Calaboz, Texas. The 18 foot hieght wall is the first thing Prof Tamez sees when she looks out her back door each morning. Initially designed to keep out terrorists following 9/11, the purpose changed to keeping illegal immigrants (many of whom are from countries other than Mexico). The wall is increasingly becoming militarized, replete with surveillance towers, the National Guard, sensors, and predator drones. The purpose of the installation of this Border Wall changes frequently and is now considered to keep drug terrorists out of the United States.
Prof Tamez has been the lead plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit against the US government claiming the wall’s construction is a violation of Texas land law; Crown land grant and riparian laws; treaties among Lipan Apaches, Texas and the US; and of international law.
In 2008 she won the Henry B. Gonzalez Civil Rights Award