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Federal Native American tracking team in Arizona could be expanding


All dependent on if act passes through House and Senate

PHOENIX, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY/AP) - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) only Native American specialized tracking team is due for a makeover after nearly 50 years of monitoring the Arizona desert.

Known as the Shadow Wolves unit, it has tracked smugglers across the 2.8 million acres of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona and the 76-mile stretch of land bordering Mexico since 1974.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security unanimously adopted bills in November seeking to improve and expand Shadow Wolves' authority.

If these laws pass, the DHS will be able to reclassify Shadow Wolves from tactical enforcement officers to special agents. It would allow them to spread the program to other tribal authorities.

This unit is famous globally for its ability to "cut sign," or read physical evidence in the terrain, such as recognizing a weft in a desert bush, the borders of a sand mark, or the interior color of a broken twig.

Shadow Wolves's investigative efforts lead to arrests and seizures of illegal drugs and guns as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement task groups.

Their involvement in an operation resulted in the arrest and conviction of 18 Sinaloa Cartel members near the Tohono O'odham Nation in 2019.

The unit currently has nine members from various tribes, including the Tohono O'odham, Blackfeet, Sioux and Navajo nations.

If the Shadow Wolves Enhancement Act passes through the House of Representatives and Senate, it could help the Tohono O'odham Nation keep and recruit agents. It would also expand the program to other tribal nations along America's international boundaries in the north and south.

Current and future Shadow Wolves would have to go through a criminal investigator training program, as well as special agent training due to the potential reclassification as special agents.

This upgrade would also aid in countering criminal organizations' technological improvements by improving working relations during multi-jurisdictional investigation.

The law was originally submitted in March 2020, and the Tohono O'odham Legislative Council overwhelmingly approved it the same month. It was then revived in July, with the addition of the program's expansion to additional tribal jurisdictions.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, is a major sponsor of the bill and serves on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.

“Reclassifying Shadow Wolves as special agents entrusts them with more authority to investigate illegal border crossings, patrol the border, and keep Arizona families safe and secure,” Sinema said.

For millennia, the Tohono O'odham have lived in the Sonoran Desert. Their peoples were divided in the mid-nineteenth century when international boundaries were changed with the Gadsden Purchase.

Border enforcement changed tribal members' lives in Arizona, limiting their cross-border movement to perform ceremonies or visit relatives south of the international border.

It eventually putting them in the middle of the fight against drug trafficking and irregular migration on the U.S.-Mexico border.

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Caleb J. Fernández

Upon earning his bachelor’s degree from The Pennsylvania State University in Advertising/Public Relations, Caleb went straight to New York City where he learned the necessities of production assistance, photography and art direction. Please reach out via email at if you’re interested in collaborating.

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