Standing with the Standing Rock Sioux, over 1,200 museum directors, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians—people "familiar with the long history of desecration of Indigenous People's artifacts and remains worldwide"—have written to the Obama administration to denounce "further irreparable losses" that would accompany completion of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
Spearheaded by The Natural History Museum, the letter, sent this week to President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers, notes the destruction caused earlier this month by the company behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, when it razed recently discovered burial sites, prayer sites, and other artifacts.
It "adds yet another injury to the Lakota, Dakota, and other Indigenous Peoples who bear the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and transportation," the letter states.
Indeed, stated signatory James Powell, former president and director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and former president of the Franklin Museum of Science, "What the Standing Rock Sioux are going through is just one example of a systemic and historical truth around how extractive and polluting infrastructure is forced upon Native communities."
"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.""It is long past time for us to abandon fossil fuel projects that harm Native communities and threaten the future of our planet," he added.
The water protectors fighting the pipeline, which would stretch over 1,100 miles from the Bakken fields in North Dakota to southern Illinois have already seen an outpouring of solidarity in the U.S. and beyond. And though on Sept. 9 the administration called for a temporary pause to the construction—a decision recently affirmed by a federal appeals court—the pipeline's "future is far from certain," and there's been no commitment from the Army Corps to make a full environmental impact statement.
From the letter:
Many of us put countless hours into developing the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to prevent burial desecration of this type, yet the pipeline was approved without a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and the cultural resources survey did not involve proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other tribes in the region.
The destruction of these sacred sites adds yet another injury to the Lakota, Dakota, and other Indigenous Peoples who bear the impacts of fossil fuel extraction and transportation. 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.
We call on the federal 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. 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.
Of course, Powell and the other signatories may not be the usual band of suspects one expects to hear from regarding a fossil fuel infrastructure project—and that's noteworthy.
"The signers of this letter are far from your typical activists," said Beka Economopoulos, director of The Natural History Museum. "It speaks to the critical nature of this issue that museum directors and scientists, who don't often engage in political struggle, have made the decision to raise their voices about the Dakota Access pipeline. The significance of the cultural artifacts along the pipeline's proposed route is simply too great to sacrifice for a fossil fuel pipeline that would threaten not only these artifacts, but also land, water, tribal sovereignty, and the climate."
Writing this week about the fight to stop the pipeline, environmental activist and essayist Chip Ward posited that "America's Manifest Destiny, that historic push across the Great Plains to the Pacific (murdering and pillaging along the way), seems to be making a return trip to Sioux country in a form that could have planetary consequences."
"Perhaps it's time to finally listen to and learn from people who lived here sustainably for thousands of years. Respecting Sioux sovereignty and protecting the sacred sites of tribes in their own co-managed national monument could write the next chapter in our American story, the one in which the Indians finally get to be heroes and heroines fighting to protect our way of life as well as their own," Ward wrote.
The full letter can be seen here.