Despite the grinding halt to construction on the Dakota Access pipeline, controversy around the project continues to grow. Most recently a massive group of scientists, historians, and preservation experts have added their opinion to the conversation.
Over 1,000 of them, actually, who wrote a letter denouncing the destruction of Standing Rock Sioux burial grounds. As of Sept. 22, the list of anthropologists, museum workers, archeologists, and historians endorsing the letter totals 1,281.
The pipeline goes through land with important cultural heritage to the Standing Rock Sioux: landmarks such as cairns, burial grounds, and stone-prayer rings, the tribe claims. Activists said they had communicated that concern to developers, but to no avail. The pipeline’s development company, having received clearance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, bulldozed through those grounds anyway.
The pipeline company, Energy Transfer Partners, said in a statement released to Global Citizen that North Dakota state archeologists had investigated found that “no significant sites” would be affected by the construction. The company also said that none of the land where the pipeline was being constructed was under Native American ownership or control, and that it worked with the Army Corps of Engineers for the Corps’ nine meetings with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
“We’re disappointed with what happened here,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which is working with the tribe. “We provided evidence on Friday of sacred sites that were directly in the pipelines route. By Saturday morning those sites had been destroyed.”
Protest Against the Dakota Access Pipeline. September 13, 2016.
On Sept. 9, the Obama administration issued a request to the company to “voluntarily pause” construction. The future of the project, however, is still very much in contention. To boot, the state of Iowa has spent 1.8 million on law enforcement for the protests, and has just approved the borrowing of 6 million more.
The experts’ letter conferred support to the groundswell of protesters who have been demonstrating at the site since April. The letter explained that those who signed it were invested in the preservation of cultural heritage for the common good. David Hurst Thomas, the curator of North American archeology at the American Museum of Natural History, said that “opposition from academics, curators and scientists” has been “unusually vast and swift.”
On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council, asking it “to condemn the destruction of our sacred places and ensure that our sovereign rights are respected.”
Formally, the protesters have continued to litigate over the pipelines development. The tribe is also pursuing claims under the National Historic Preservation act, a law which Earthjustice attorney Stephanie Tsosie said, “is there precisely to protect incidents like this from happening.”
The letter penned by archaeologists and experts also stressed that point. It called on the federal government to abide by its own laws and to conduct “a thorough environmental impact statement.” They also urged the federal government to consult with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and otherwise act on its promise to invite tribes to formal, government-to-government consultations.
The letter also pointed to flaws in the federal review process, stating that the pipeline was approved without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Protesters are also concerned about the long-term future of the pipeline, which would run under the Missouri River. Pipelines in North Dakota have leaked in the past, raising concerns about the threat of an oil leakage in a vital water supply.
“Water is life,” said Julie Richards, a member of the Oglala Nation who, in protest, had bound her arms with plaster around one of Dakota Access’ massive, dirt-covered bulldozers. “We need water to survive, we need to put a stop to this pipeline.”