Pubdate: Thu, 18 Jul 2002
Source: Christian Science Monitor (US)
Copyright: 2002 The Christian Science Publishing Society
Author: Tim Vanderpool


SELLS, ARIZ. - As the fence on the Arizona-Mexico border comes into view, 
Curtis Heim jumps out of an SUV to follow some footprints into a mesquite 
tree grove. Weaving among squat cactus and desert scrub, he pulls down a 
thorny branch.

Dangling from it is a nearly invisible fiber from a sugar sack - a favorite 
receptacle of drug smugglers, who cut shoulder straps in the bags and turn 
them into backpacks.

"No matter how careful they are, there's always something left behind," he 
says, examining the fiber.

Mr. Heim is a member of the Shadow Wolves, a US Customs patrol that's all 
native American - and that's gained a reputation as having the finest 
trackers in the nation.

The patrol, which Congress created in the early 1970s, uses traditional 
native American tracking skills as it takes a frontline position in the war 
on drugs. Although the Wolves number only 21, they are responsible for 
about 70 percent of the 40,000 to 60,000 pounds of drugs seized each year 
by this Customs section - an area that includes more than 60 miles of 
Arizona-Mexico border, as well as the Tohono O'odham Reservation, 
birthplace of many of the Wolves.

Their skills are so valued that they've been dispatched to several former 
Soviet states and the Baltics, where they train officers to track weapons 
smugglers. But they don't need to go halfway around the world to help 
change the way things work. On the Tohono O'odham Reservation, they've 
forged links of trust with their fellow native Americans, making some more 
likely to share information than they would be with Anglo officers.

"It's easier for the local community to share information with someone they 
know and have a trusting relationship with," says Lawrence Seligman, chief 
of the Tohono O'odham Police Department. "The reality is, it's always 
positive to have local members of the community - regardless of the culture 
- - be a part of the group that's involved in law enforcement."

How To Listen

The Shadow Wolves adopted their name to describe their relentless, 
round-the-clock pursuit of smugglers. The patrol includes members from a 
number of tribes, including Navajo, Chicasaw, Sioux, and Lakota, as well as 

Marvin Eleando, a 26-year Shadow Wolves veteran, is an O'odham born and 
raised on this reservation. "Growing up, we learned how to track, what to 
look for when we'd go hunting," he says. His grandfather would wake him 
before sunrise, and "teach me how to listen, to hear things out in the desert."

The Shadow Wolves augment such traditional skills with state-of-the-art 
equipment, from ATVs and night scopes to global positioning devices.

Combining the Wolves' home-grown talent with high technology is very 
effective, says Rene Andreu, an Anglo, and resident agent in charge for the 
Customs office in Sells, a scruffy town that's also home to the O'odham 
tribal government. This mix "is one of the reasons they do so well."

Hunting Danger

Still, when the Wolves catch their prey, things can get dicey. Heim - a 
Sacafox from Iowa - recently sustained bruises when a Ford Excursion struck 
him during a major drug bust not far from here.

Indeed, a gray feather on the patrol's distinctive shoulder patches 
symbolizes the death of Shadow Wolf Glenn Miles, who was killed in a 
shootout with smugglers in 1985. The patch has "become a morale booster, 
and created a stronger bond between all of us," says its designer, Bryan 
Nez, a Navajo tracker.

Mr. Seligman notes that bonds have also been strengthened between his 
police department and the Wolves. "This is a fairly isolated - and becoming 
much more dangerous - arena to be a cop," he says. "That's what brings us 

Those ties are undoubtedly an advantage as both groups deal with the 
community. Stricken by poverty, the O'odham themselves sometimes turn to 
smuggling. When those suspects are brought in, "I can usually tell you what 
family and what village they belong to," says Mr. Eleando.

Close To Home

But working for the federal government isn't always viewed favorably by 
some tribal members, who still nurse resentment for years of repression.

Ed Cline, an Omaha Indian from Nebraska and Heim's partner, has seen that 
more than a few times. "A lot of people in our own tribes do resent it," he 
says. "But I tell them, we're doing what we do for everybody's kids."

Cline is in the driver's seat of the SUV, raising a thick cloud of tawny 
dust as he slides into gear. But he shudders to a stop when Heim spots 
another flurry of tracks crossing the hard, rocky flats.

Reading the ground, Heim quickly realizes that these prints are left by 
illegal immigrants, not by drug smugglers. "You can tell the ones that 
belong to the drug smugglers - they're deeper" because they're carrying a 
load, he says. Smugglers often try to hide their tracks by strapping pieces 
of carpet to their shoes, or brushing away footprints.

This inch-by-inch work of the Shadow Wolves may very well be carried on by 
some of the youths on Tohono O'odham Reservation, who have learned about 
the top-notch unit at school presentations.

"The kids were impressed that they went to Russia and South America," says 
Sandy Gutierrez, a career counselor at Baboquivari High School on the 
reservation. "It's important for the children to know that there are 
careers that will allow them to come back to the reservation, to work with 
their people, and to help them."
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