On Friday, September 2, lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux went to court to ask for a halt to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline over specific sacred sites and burial grounds. They provided a map of the specific cultural sites identified by the tribe’s expert.
The very next day — September 3, Saturday of Labor Day weekend — Energy Transfer Company sent its bulldozers to destroy the specific cultural sites identified in the map submitted to the court.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawyer told Democracy Now that the land, though once part of the tribe’s land, is owned by someone else now:
“[T]hat landowner invited one of the tribe’s cultural experts out to come take a look. And he was sympathetic to the tribe’s concerns, and he wanted to understand why people were so worried about this pipeline. So, a few days prior to Friday, Tim Mentz, the tribe’s expert in these matters, went out and conducted a formal archaeological survey, in keeping with, you know, state and federal protocols. He went out, and he built maps of these very unique and important archaeological sites and the locations of these burials, that were right in the pipeline’s way. And that’s the information we put together and put in front of the court on Friday.”
As far as anyone in the tribe knew, construction was still miles, and days, away from this site when they went to court.
“We have a sworn declaration from one of the tribe’s cultural experts that describes some of these sites, multiple gravesites and burials, very important archaeological features of the kind that are not found commonly. And we put all that in front of the court. And the next morning, it was gone. The shock and anguish felt by tribal members at this, and this abuse of the legal process, is really hard to describe.”
Protesters from the Sacred Stone Camp rushed to the site. A security company set dogs on the protesters, as well as attacking them with pepper spray. Local media reported that security guards had been injured. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, on site to report on the ongoing protest, produced video showing the dogs, one with blood dripping from its mouth, and also showing protesters who had been bitten by the dogs. Tribal chair Dave Archambault II told Democracy Now:
“[W]e had witnesses, and we had people who had injuries as a result of the confrontation. And we had a lot of people pepper-sprayed. But the law enforcement said they wanted to do a thorough investigation. And before they did that, they started releasing statements. And it’s just one-sided reports by the law enforcement. They should have got both sides. …
“This was all premeditated. They knew something was going to happen when they leapfrogged over 15 miles of undisturbed land to destroy our sacred sites. They knew that something was going to happen, so they were prepared. They hired a company that had guard dogs, and then they came in, and then they waited. And it was—by the time we saw what was going on, it was too late. Everything was destroyed. The fact is that they desecrated our ancestral gravesites. They just destroyed prayer sites.”
The law typically moves slowly, and this legal case went back and forth with some defeats and some partial victories for the tribe. In the most recent decision (Friday, September 16), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court ordered a halt to pipeline construction for 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahe, the part of the Missouri River closest to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. (Lake Oahe is a lake created by damming the Missouri River, and is part of the Missouri River.) Energy & Environment reported:
“Though Lake Oahe and its shorelines are currently off-limits to Dakota Access while the Army Corps of Engineers considers whether to grant an easement there, most of the pipeline corridor stretching 20 miles from the lake is on private land. The Obama administration last week asked for a voluntary halt to construction along the private land, but the company has argued that any delay will cost millions of dollars.
“A three-judge panel concluded tonight that a narrow work freeze within 20 miles of the lake was appropriate while it considers the tribe’s request for an emergency injunction.”
That’s not a decision on the merits of the tribe’s motion, but it prevents any further destruction while the courts consider the case.
Destruction of ancestral sites is a travesty, but that is just one of the grave problems with the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). For more, follow this series by subscribing to News Day or click on the links below. Future posts will look at the protests and local police responses, media coverage and arrests of journalists, and environmental issues raised by the pipeline.
By now, everyone who reads this blog has heard about #NoDAPL, the protests in North Dakota over the Dakota Access Pipeline. The issues are either very simple (NO to all pipelines, everywhere, end of story) or quite complex. Yeah – I’ll go with quite complex. So this is part 2 of a series of posts on various issues around #NoDAPL. Here are links to the other posts, updated as I continue the series: