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Saturday 5 November 2016
Native American protesters say the pipeline is threatening indigenous
North Dakota regulators accuse company of failing to disclose the
discovery of Native American symbolic stones on a site where
construction was planned
North Dakota regulators are filing a complaint against the oil company
building the Dakota Access pipeline for failing to disclose the
discovery of Native American artifacts in the path of construction.
The allegations mark the state’s first formal action against the
corporation and add fuel to the claims of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe,
which has long argued that the $3.7bn pipeline threatens sacred lands
and indigenous cultural heritage.
Julie Fedorchak, chair of the North Dakota public service commission,
told the Guardian that on 17 October, pipeline officials found a group
of stone cairns –symbolic rock piles that sometimes mark burial grounds
– on a site where construction was planned.
The firm, however, failed to notify the commission, in violation of its
permit, and only disclosed the findings 10 days later when government
workers inquired about it, she said.
“I was very disappointed,” said Fedorchak. “We found out from our
inspectors. Who knows when we would’ve found out?”
The rebuke is significant given that public officials in North Dakota
have repeatedly criticized Native American leaders protesting against
the pipeline and have gone to great lengths to protect the construction
sites from demonstrations. The commission will file a complaint this
week and the company could face a maximum fine of $10,000 per day for
the 10 days without a disclosure, according to Fedorchak.
Native American protesters, who call themselves “water protectors”, said
a reprimand from regulators was too little too late and lamented that
the state had consistently failed to work with the tribe to prevent the
destruction of sacred burial grounds and historic artifacts.
“They are digging up our sites. They are not following the law,” said
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a Standing Rock Sioux tribe member and
founder of the Sacred Stone camp, which activists formed in the spring
to fight the pipeline.
Over the last week, construction of the 1,172-mile pipeline – which
would carry 470,000 barrels a day from North Dakota to Illinois – has
gotten very close to the Missouri river where the tribe fears it would
contaminate the regional drinking water.
Indigenous activists, who have faced Mace, rubber bullets, mass arrests
and questionable jail conditions, say the project has already bulldozed
Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the pipeline, did not
respond to a request for comment on Friday, but a lawyer for the firm
claimed in a letter to the commission that the construction crew
rerouted around the cairn artifacts and filed a report with the state
historic preservation office.
The attorney further claimed that the failure to disclose the findings
to the commission was due to the fact that the company was busy
coordinating a site visit for public officials.
“What we’re concerned about is transparency,” said Fedorchak.
President Obama recently said the US government was exploring ways to
reroute the pipeline, but said he would “let it play out for several
more weeks”. Indigenous leaders have urged him to permanently save the
native lands and surrounding areas from further destruction.
Analysis Dakota Access pipeline: the who, what and why of the Standing
Everything you need to know about the controversial pipeline that has
become an international rallying cry for indigenous rights and climate
Cheryl Angel, a Sicangu Lakota tribe member who has been at the Standing
Rock camps since April, said she has personally seen what appear to be
indigenous artifacts in the line of construction and that she believes
the pipeline operators have intentionally hidden discoveries of sacred
sites and knowingly destroyed them.
“It’s a tremendous blow to our history. They are trying to erase our
existence,” said Angel, 56. “That’s a blatant disregard for our culture.
That hurts when someone purposefully tries to erase you as people from …
the land we’ve occupied for centuries.”
Allard said she suspected the state might be taking action against the
company simply because there is now international attention on the conflict.
“They have no choice now, because the world is watching.”
Given the extent to which the government has allowed the pipeline to
rapidly progress, Angel said she did not believe regulators wanted to
help preserve artifacts.
“It’s almost as if they are working hand in hand with the oil company to
go ahead and let them start drilling.”
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