Skip to content

Dakota Access Pipeline: Archaeologist Group Urges Army Corps Of Engineers To ‘Learn From Past Errors’ On Sacred Sites

Posted in Journalism, and MintPress News

Originally published at MintPress News.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Society for American Archaeology is urging the Army Corps of Engineers to reevaluate the plans and permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“On behalf of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), I write to you urgently regarding the process by which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has handled its National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Section 106 responsibilities in relation to Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL),” SAA president Diane Gifford-Gonzalez wrote in an open letter issued on Tuesday.

The SAA, the world’s largest organization of professional archaeologists, also sent the Sept. 13 letter to President Barack Obama, multiple federal agencies including the Justice Department and Department of the Interior, and the governor of each state the pipeline will run through.

The 1,134 mile, $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline is slated to bring crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois. The Sacred Stone Camp, a gathering of thousands of members of over 100 Native American tribes near Fort Yates, North Dakota, has spent months protesting and blockading construction of the pipeline.

Allies around the country have also staged dozens of protests at sites owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline’s builder, and at banks funding the project.

On Sept. 3, security guards used dogs and pepper spray on activists from the Sacred Stone Camp who had crossed into an active construction site near Lake Oahe that Native Americans say is part of a Standing Rock Sioux burial ground.

In the open letter, Gifford-Gonzalez expresses concern over the status of the burial ground, and suggests the Army Corps of Engineers did not follow its own regulations in allowing construction on the site, which contains “stone formations [that] may not be apparent to archaeological surveyors who lack the benefit of complete tribal consultations.”

Construction continues on the pipeline despite a mild rebuke to its builders from the Obama administration on Saturday that temporarily halted work around Lake Oahe.

Rather than allowing construction to continue under the current patchwork of federal and state permits, Gifford-Gonzalez urges the government to reclassify the pipeline as a federal project and reconsider whether it should proceed. She continues:

[G]iven the events of the last two weeks, SAA has concerns that it is possible that there may have been violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, as well as North Dakota State Law 23-06-27 (the “Protection of Human Burial Sites, Human Remains, and Burial Goods’ section of ‘Care and Custody of the Dead”). It behooves USACE to investigate whether development activities have violated these laws.

Referencing the Kennewick Man, a prehistoric skeleton which became embroiled in a legal dispute and controversy among Native Americans who hoped to reclaim the specimen from scientists, Gifford-Gonzalez urged the government to reconsider how it handles native lands and burial sites in future fossil fuel projects, as well.

“As should we all, the USACE hopefully does learn from past errors in dealing with cultural heritage, human remains, and sacred traditional cultural properties,” she wrote.