Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II expressed a mix of gratitude and sorrow on Thursday upon learning that nearly 1,300 archaeologists and museum representatives had called for the federal government to do more to protect the tribe’s sacred sites.
“Our water, our resources and our lives are at risk because of this pipeline,” Archambault said in a statement, referring to the September 3 bulldozing by Dakota Access LLC workers of a two-mile-long, 150-foot-wide swath northwest of the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers. “Our sacred sites can never be replaced. We are grateful to the more than 1,200 historians, archaeologists, historians and museum workers who understand the value of our sacred indigenous sites and artifacts and who stand with us on this issue. The federal government must honor our treaties. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will not stop fighting until our lands, resources, people and sacred sites are permanently protected from the destruction of the pipeline.”
In its haste to get the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile-long pipeline routed under the Missouri River, Dakota Access on September 3 used pepper spray and guard dogs to deter people who tried to stop the bulldozing.
In a statement and petition tying together history, spirituality and climate change, the Natural History Museum, which offers traveling exhibitions, educational workshops and other programs, rebuked pipeline builder Dakota Access for its actions. It also called on the U.S. government “to abide by its laws and to conduct a thorough environmental impact statement and cultural resources survey on the pipeline’s route, with proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe,” the petition stated.
“We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and affirm their treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and the protection of their lands, waters, cultural and sacred sites, and we stand with all those attempting to prevent further irreparable losses,” the 1,281 signers said, noting that Native peoples often bear the brunt of industry’s deleterious environmental effects.
“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.”
Those signing the petition included at least two dozen Native advocates for the sacred, among them 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner Suzan Shown Harjo and Brenda Toineeta Pipestem, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
“The Obama Administration has temporarily stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline’s illegal push toward contaminating Sioux water and its bullying tactics that deliberately desecrated Sioux Ancestors and a sacred place,” said Harjo (Cheyenne & Muscogee), who is also president of the Morning Star Institute, in a statement. “DAPL first violated existing religious freedom, cultural rights, historic, environmental and archaeological laws by failing to consult with the Standing Rock and other Sioux nations, and most recently by denying descendants access to their sacred place and enforcing the ban with attack dogs and other weapons. Native people and supporters urge official actions to stop this shameful, illegal project permanently.”
A day earlier, Archambault had been at the United Nations in Geneva, presenting to the Human Rights Council. On September 22, he testified at a forum held by House Democrats in Washington DC, explaining Lakota cosmology to a room full of U.S. Representatives.
“We’re tied to the universe,” he said. “All our spirits are connected in the universe. It starts at the core of the Earth and rises to the surface. All our families come from a sacred place.”
He explained that “what is happening up there is happening down here,” and said that those not yet born need the sacred places mapped out on the Earth’s surface. “That surface is what has to stay there for future generations.”
Commenting on the archaeologists’ petition later that day, Archambault spoke of the federal government’s failure to uphold its trust responsibilities to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and what it had cost his people.
“Because of the Corps’ failure as a trustee, our people have suffered a loss beyond measure,” Archambault said. “Our ancient burial sites, the places where our Lakota and Dakota ancestors were laid to rest, have been destroyed. Imagine a bulldozer running through your family’s cemetery. It is unimaginable. Yet this is what the Corps has allowed.”