Representatives of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota rushed to court in search of an emergency restraining order Tuesday, claiming the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline had sent bulldozers to destroy sacred sites in the path of the controversial project.
“Opponents of the oil pipeline say they believe the company deliberately sought to destroy the artifacts, which are located along a two-mile stretch west of Lake Oahe,” InsideClimate News reports. “Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, began bulldozing that area on Saturday—less than 24 hours after the tribe filed a court document detailing the 27 graves, 16 stone rings, 19 effigies, and other artifacts found there. By Sunday, all of those sites had been destroyed or harmed, according to court filings.”
One of the sites “was a stone marker that the Tribe’s cultural expert described in court filings as ‘one of the most significant archaeological finds in North Dakota in many years,’” ICN notes.
The company’s action led to stepped-up protests over the weekend, with thousands of people from across the U.S. now at the site. While pipeline builders accused the tribe of provoking violence to stop the project, photos and video over the weekend showed the company’s private security attacking community members with dogs and pepper spray.
U.S. Judge James Boasberg granted part of the restraining order until he could issue a full ruling later today, but his decision did not cover the portion of land under dispute. That decision “puts my people’s sacred places at further risk of ruin and desecration,” said tribal chair David Archambault II.
Mekasi Camp Horinek of the Ponca Nation, coordinator of Bold Oklahoma, told ICN the company “leapfrogged about 10 miles from where they were to go to those culturally significant sites and destroy them.” Vermont Law School Prof. Patrick Parenteau said that activity “paints a very black picture” of the company.
Under U.S. federal law, the presence of Native American cultural artifacts should “stop the pipeline dead right there,” he said, adding that U.S. federal agencies “should be sending in investigators. They should be on the scene.”
In addition to the sacred sites, ICN’s Phil McKenna notes the pipeline would place the Standing Rock Sioux community’s present-day inhabitants at risk. It will cross the Missouri River a half-mile from the reservation, whose 8,200 members—40% of whom live below the poverty line—count on the river for drinking water and irrigation.
“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that oil from a spill at that Missouri River crossing could reach the tribe’s drinking water intake pipe at Fort Yates, the tribal headquarters and county seat, within several hours,” McKenna writes. “There would be very little time to determine if a spill or leak affecting surface water is occurring, to notify water treatment plants, and to have treatment plant staff on site to shut down the water intakes,” said Philip Strobel, an EPA regional compliance director.