Archeologists denounce Dakota Access pipeline for destroying artifacts

Coalition of 1,200 archeologists, museum directors and historians say $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline disturbs Native American artifacts in North Dakota

Archeologists and museum directors have denounced the “destruction” of Native American artifacts during the construction of a contentious oil pipeline in North Dakota, as the affected tribe condemned the project in an address to the United Nations.

The $3.8bn Dakota Access pipeline, which will funnel oil from the Bakken oil fields in the Great Plains to Illinois, will run next to the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. The tribe has mounted a legal challenge to stop the project and claimed that several sacred sites were bulldozed by Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, on 3 September.

A coalition of more than 1,200 archeologists, museum directors and historians from institutions including the Smithsonian and the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries has written to the Obama administration to criticize the bulldozing, which Energy Transfer claims did not disturb any artifacts.

The letter states that the construction work destroyed “ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people”.

It adds: “The destruction of these sacred sites adds yet another injury to the Lakota, Dakota and other Indigenous Peoples who bear the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and transportation. If constructed, this pipeline will continue to encourage oil consumption that causes climate change, all the while harming those populations who contributed little to this crisis.”

The Obama administration has halted construction of the 1,170-mile pipeline that occurs on federal land while it reassesses the initial decision by the Army Corps of Engineers to allow the project to proceed. The approval sparked furious protests at a camp near the North Dakota construction site but Energy Transfer has vowed to push ahead after a federal judge sided with the company.

“What the Standing Rock Sioux are going through is just one example of a systemic and historical truth around how extractive and polluting infrastructure is forced upon Native communities,” said James Powell, former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum.

“It is long past time for us to abandon fossil fuel projects that harm native communities and threaten the future of our planet.”

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe has taken its case to the UN, addressing the human rights commission in Geneva on Tuesday. Dave Archambault II, chairman of the tribe, said that Energy Transfer has shown “total disregard for our rights and our sacred sites”.

“Thousands have gathered peacefully in Standing Rock in solidarity against the pipeline,” Archambault told commission members. “And yet many water protectors have been threatened and even injured by the pipeline’s security officers. One child was bitten and injured by a guard dog. We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

Archambault said the pipeline violates the UN’s declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples and called on the UN to use its “influence and international platform” to help the tribe.

Energy Transfer did not respond to a request for comment. The company has previously denounced “threats and attacks” perpetrated upon its employees.

Darryl McMahon

Active optimism: What's the best that could happen? (now, go MAKE it happen)
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