North Dakota Oil Pipeline: Company Destroys Native Burial Sites

If true, this is pure barbarism. I blogged earlier this week about protests by Native Americans about the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which is intended to carry oil through the lands of the Standing Rock Sioux people. The tribe are opposing it, as they fear that the pipeline will lead to the pollution of their water supply and the destruction of their lands and its ecosystem. In this piece from Democracy Now!, the anchor Amy Goodson speaks to the tribe’s lawyer, Jan Hasselman, from the chambers Earthjustice, and the tribe’s chairman Dave Archambault.

The oil company has tried a number of tactics to try to close down and disrupt the protests. They local sheriff and officials have pulled cellphone access over the area, to stop citizens uploading videos of the protests to the internet. They’ve also attacked the protesters with dogs and pepper spray. There’s video footage of the bites some of the protesters received from one of the animals, with blood dripping from the muzzle of a Doberman Pinscher. The oil company has also tried to destroy the ancient burials on the site, which Mr Hasselman was hoping to use as part of his case against the development.

Mr Hasselman and a team of archaeologists surveyed the site to show that there were Native American archaeological remains, some of them very rare, in the area which was scheduled for digging. These included the burials. They submitted these to the court in the hope that the judge would therefore rule that digging could not go ahead under the relevant legislation protecting ancient monuments in America and desecrating burial sites. The reverse happened. The company took the information, and used it as a guide to the location of the remains. They then sent the bulldozers in to destroy them. They did so in front of the protesters, and when they moved to protect the monuments, the security guards set the dogs on them and attacked them with mace.

Here’s the report.

This is outrageous on so many levels. It’s disgusting when anyone’s graves are desecrated. It is particularly outrageous when it’s deliberately done by a multimillion, if not multibillion dollar company against an impoverished community in a deliberate attempt to destroy their past for corporate profit. I have a postgraduate qualification in Archaeology from Bristol University. When I was on the course, a number of the other students I met were archaeologists from the other side of the Atlantic – America and Canada. Several of them had worked studying ancient First Nation American and Canadian remains. One young woman had designed a heritage park for one of the local peoples in southeast America. Another young man had also worked in Canada, prospecting ahead of the oil companies on the Canadian prairie for palaeoindian remains. And another young woman had been part of an expedition to the Canadian arctic to study Inuit monuments.

There is a wealth of fascinating archaeology from the indigenous American and Canadian cultures, which archaeologists have recovered and from which they are still learning. This archaeology is often not fully appreciated, even by the local people, to whom it really belongs, as for years the American and Canadian governments and some religious organisations, Such as the Roman Catholic missions in the American South West, did their level best to destroy the indigenous culture. In Canada, this was most notoriously through the government boarding schools, which were designed to isolate Native children from their ancestral culture and inculcate in them the culture, including clothing and language, of the White majority. The same policy was adopted in Australia against the Aboriginal people. As a result, some First Nation peoples tragically have only a very hazy idea of their traditional culture and the meaning of the monuments their ancestors created and left behind. I believe such a policy today of trying to destroy the Native people’s ancestral way of life would count as genocide under international human rights legislation.

Because of the historic injustice against these communities, excavation of these sites is extremely sensitive and, in Canada, they’re very strongly protected. The lad, who worked on the prairie informed me that he was working to make sure that there were no ancient Indian artifacts around before the oil companies moved in to extract oil from the shale geology of the area. If just one flint arrowhead was found, the area was a protected site and no development could go ahead. He also told me of some of the ceremonies that had to be carried out, and in which the archaeologists conducting the excavation, had to take part according to tribal religion. The archaeologists exploring ancient Sioux burial grounds, for example, had to be ‘smudged’ by the tribe’s shaman. ‘Smudging’ is something like Christian exorcism, but also rather different. The excavators and investigators, including those just handling the remains and writing up the notes, had to be anointed on their wrists and neck with buffalo grease by the local shaman for as long as the excavation lasted. This obviously made washing and personal cleanliness difficult, but it had to be done. The archaeologists were after all investigating another people’s culture, and so had to respect it.

Because archaeological remains are scarcer in America and Canada, because of the sparser population before the European conquest, excavations are carried out with a greater thoroughness than in Britain and Europe. They may take longer, and are done in finer detail than is frequently possible across the Atlantic.

Now it seems remains of immense cultural, spiritual and personal value to Sioux people, as well as of inestimable scientific value to archaeologists, has been destroyed for no reason other than to spite the protesters and their supporters, and prevent proper investigation by the courts. Several of the faculty at Bristol uni were members of, or had personal connections to, the World Heritage Organisation. Archaeologists, like other academics, travel all over the world to excavate and teach. So you can bet that scholars across the world have heard of this attack through their organisations, colleagues and students. And they aren’t going to be impressed.

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2 Responses to “North Dakota Oil Pipeline: Company Destroys Native Burial Sites”

  1. 61chrissterry Says:

    Reblogged this on 61chrissterry and commented:
    This is disgraceful and the law should be protecting the victims,the Standing Rock Sioux people.

  2. Mark Catlin Says:

    Reblogged this on Mark Catlin's Blog.

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