September 21, 2016
Water is Sacred. Water is Life. Cherokees say, “Water is unique or of heavy importance.” ᎠᎹ ᎤᎵᏍᎨᏗ [ama ulsgedi].
Northeastern State University (NSU) is a Native-serving university with a strong Indigenous heritage and presence of students, faculty, and staff representing more than 30 different tribal nations. The Department of Cherokee and Indigenous Studies at Northeastern State University (NSU), made up of diverse scholars, along with many Native American professors from throughout the University, stand in solidarity with the Oceti Sakowin Oyate (the Great Sioux Nation), the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the many Indigenous nations, communities, and individuals that are exercising their rights as protectors. This department supports and echoes the letter by the Natural History Museum in New York and scholars from various backgrounds addressed to the United States Department of Justice and Army Corps of Engineers, released on September 8, 2016, with the following statement:
As archaeologists, anthropologists, paleontologists, historians, and museum workers committed to responsible stewardship, we are invested in the preservation and interpretation of archaeological and cultural heritage for the common good. We join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in denouncing the recent destruction of ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural artifacts sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people.
On Saturday, September 3, 2016, the company behind the contentious Dakota Access Pipeline project bulldozed land containing Native American burial grounds, grave markers, and artifacts--including ancient cairns and stone prayer rings. The construction crews, flanked by private security and canine squads, arrived just hours after the Standing Rock Sioux tribal lawyers disclosed the location of the recently discovered site in federal court filings.
Former tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz called the discovery of the site “one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years.” The tribe had hoped that this new evidence would support its request for an injunction to delay pipeline construction, for which a ruling is expected imminently. “This demolition is devastating,” Tribal Chairman David Archambault II said. “These grounds are the resting places of our ancestors. The ancient cairns and stone prayer rings there cannot be replaced. In one day, our sacred land has been turned into hollow ground.”
We are familiar with the long history of desecration of Indigenous People’s artifacts and remains worldwide. 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 Department of Justice to urge the Army Corps of Engineers to abide by federal 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 all those attempting to prevent further irreparable losses.
We honor and respect Indigenous sovereignty and general human rights to protect the sacred space and life source of the Missouri River and call for the recognition of and responsibility, accountability, and respect toward the sacred spaces of the Lakota and Dakota peoples.