Tribes calling for a temporary restraining order in response to the destruction of sacred sites and burial grounds in the path of the Dakota Access Pipeline were heard by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg today. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe wants construction stopped on the pipeline route for a length of about two miles west of Highway 1806 and within 20 miles on either side of Lake Oahe.
In a sign of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Obama administration is supporting an emergency temporary restraining order against the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.
Papers filed in federal court on Friday say several dramatic finds on private land near the path of the controversial pipeline are so significant that Tim Mentz Sr., the tribe's former longtime historic preservation officer, is calling them once in a lifetime discoveries.
"This is one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years," Mentz, who was the first certified tribal historic preservation officer in the nation, said in a sworn declaration.
That find, according to Mentz, is a large stone feature that depicts the Big Dipper, one of the most important constellations in Lakota cosmology. He said he has only ever seen three in his lifetime but he believes this one to be especially significant because it is attached to a grave site.
"This means that there is a very important leader buried here, what the Elders would say of him as 'he was beyond reproach,'" Mentz stated. The Big Dipper site, described as Iyokaptan Tanka, lies only about 75 feet from the edge of the pipeline corridor, according to the declaration.
Mentz told the court another stone feature representing the Strong Heart Society Staff, an area used for prayers and spiritual journeys with a grave extends into the pipeline corridor. "Portions of this site are directly in the pipeline corridor and would be destroyed by pipeline construction," Mentz said in the declaration of what he called Chante Tinza Wapaha.
A stone effigy that represents Mato Wapiya, or the Bear Medicine Healer, was found just a few feet from the pipeline corridor, Mentz added. This site is also extremely rare -- only one other site of its kind has been discovered in the Great Plains, he said. "To find evidence of where the Bear Medicine man’s presence or fasting area connected to a society is very unusual," Mentz told the court, adding: "We only have great stories of these types of men; the deeds they accomplish during times when healing needed to occur."
Mentz said in his filing that tribe elders want the opportunity to rebury their ancestors, and time to deal with the loss and hurt of disturbing graves already ruined by construction crews.
"Sites that are immediately adjacent the pipeline corridor are buried under berms of soil and vegetation that are as high as eight to ten feet. Anything under those berms is damaged if not destroyed," Mentz said. " I note that normally grading a site like this for utilities or a highway would result in relatively shallow grading and berms on one side of the right of way of around two feet.
"Here, it appears that DAPL dug substantially deeper than normal, as I saw berms of 8 to 10 feet on both sides of the right of way. In my experience this is unusual. Normally in a situation like this, the Tribe would seek an opportunity to look for human remains in these berms so that our relatives could be reburied. This is very important to us. We successfully fought for a change in state law that set up the North Dakota Tribal Re-internment Committee to rebury relatives that are disturbed by construction like this."
"In such a situation, the soil in the berms is spread out and screened for human remains. In my view, given the high concentration of gravesites in this area, there are likely human remains in the berms. These are not conventional burials six feet under ground—bodies were placed on or near the surface with rock cairns over them. That is why grading a foot or two feet is likely to disturb these sites. It is common for remains to be disturbed in this way, as it is all but impossible for the operator of a bulldozer, sitting high above the site, to see what is happening below."
Dogs and helicopters
Mentz continues, "I do not believe that the timing of this construction was an accident or coincidence. Based on my observations, the nearest area of construction in the right of way west of Highway 1806 is around 20 miles away. It appears that DAPL drove the bulldozers approximately 20 miles of uncleared right of way to access the precise area that we surveyed and described in my declaration. The work started very early in the morning and they were accompanied by private security with dogs and with a helicopter overhead, indicating that the work was planned with care and that controversy was expected.
It is generally known that DAPL’s construction crews don’t normally work on weekends. To the best of my knowledge, this work over a holiday weekend was unusual. The pipeline route east of 1806 traverses around a mile, or so to the Lake Oahe site. It has not been cleared or graded yet. The Tribe has not yet had an opportunity to survey this area for cultural artifacts and graves. Based on my experience in this area, I believe that there is a strong possibility that such sites are present in and adjacent to the pipeline right of way. "
A ruling on the order by Judge Boasberg is expected Friday.