WASHINGTON — U.S. District Judge James Boasberg agreed today to temporarily halt construction on a portion of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, but his decision fell short of protecting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s burial grounds that were plowed up by the pipeline company over Labor Day weekend.
Although the judge agreed to halt construction between State Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe, he denied a temporary restraining order on construction west of Highway 1806, citing the Army Corp of Engineers’ lack of jurisdiction on private land.
“We are disappointed that the U.S. District Court’s decision does not prevent Dakota Access Pipeline from destroying our sacred sites as we await a ruling on our original motion to stop construction of the pipeline,” said Standing Rock Sioux Chairman David Archambault II.
“Today’s denial of a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access Pipeline west of Lake Oahe puts my people’s sacred places at further risk of ruin and desecration.”
The tribe filed an emergency motion on Sunday, Sept. 4 to stop construction. The motion asserted that Dakota Access had used court documents submitted by the tribe last week to locate and bulldoze more than 27 grave sites, prayer circles, cairns, and other sacred sites protected from destruction under federal, state and tribal laws.
“On Saturday, September 3, Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts,” said Chairman Archambault. “They did this on a holiday weekend, one day after we filed court papers identifying these sacred sites. The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm. We asked the court to halt this path of destruction.”
The area for which Judge Boasberg denied the TRO contains burial sites and rare artifacts of cultural significance to all of the Lakota tribes. Dakota Access will not be mandated to halt work in this historic Lakota territory.
However, at the judge’s request, the company agreed to halt construction east of Lake Oahe until a separate ruling is issued on the preliminary injunction motion this week. In his declaration to the court, Tim Mentz Sr., former historic preservation officer for the tribe, said he was invited by the private landowner of property west of Highway 1806 to conduct a formal survey because he was concerned about sacred sites.
Mentz discovered evidence of historically and religiously important stone features and graves that are in the pipeline’s proposed right-of-way. He described an extraordinary concentration of graves (including burials of important chiefs) and stone features marking a highly unusual and sacred area directly in and adjacent to the pipeline’s route near Lake Oahe.
One of these sites—a stone representation of a constellation used for prayer for a select group of Tribal leaders—was described by Mentz as “one of the most significant archaeological finds in North Dakota in many years.”
Less than 24 hours after that filing, burial grounds and sacred sites were bulldozed by DAPL, according to court documents.
On Saturday, September 3, DAPL construction crews graded the entire two-mile area by removing the top layer of vegetation and soil, removing or burying all stone features in and next to the pipeline’s 150-foot right of way.
The loss of these sites caused incalculable harm to the tribe, said the tribe’s attorney Jan Hasselman. “We provided evidence they said we needed to provide and 12 hours later the bulldozers were there,” he said.
After word spread of the desecration, some 200 water protectors walked to the construction site to stop further destruction. DAPL’s private security brought attack dogs to fend off the crowd and pepper-sprayed at least 30 people. Six people were bitten, including a pregnant woman and a child, as the dogs were urged to lunge at the crowd by handlers.
Meanwhile some 8,000 people representing more than 180 tribes have flowed into the Oceti Sakowin, Sacred Stone and Red Warrior camps to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s efforts to protect their water, treaty land and burial grounds from the Army Corps and Dakota Access pipeline.
Ironically, in court documents, the Army Corps of Engineers acknowledges that the Standing Rock Sioux Nation notified the Corps about burials near the pipeline route: "At the Cannonball Ranch, there are burials of notable Standing Rock members and their families including Maltida Galpin, Alma Parken, Louisa Degray Van Solen, and Charles Picotte, among whom are signatories on the Treaty of Fort Laramie. There is also an unmarked grave of Mrs. Harrison at the mouth of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers.”
Yet the Corps concluded, "there will be no direct or indirect effects to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.”
Despite video footage of bulldozers plowing up burial sites, Energy Transfer Partners attorneys denied that workers have destroyed any cultural sites, and insisted that the company “has taken and continues to take every reasonable precaution.”
Judge Boasberg said he will rule on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's challenge of federal regulators' decision to grant permits to Dakota Access pipeline by Friday.