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Did the Dakota Access Pipeline Company Deliberately Destroy Sacred Sioux Burial Sites?

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Only hours after lawyers representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed evidence in federal court documenting how some of the Dakota Access pipeline’s proposed route would go through a sacred burial site, the company unexpectedly began working on that very site. As bulldozers cleared earth, hundreds of Native Americans from many different tribes rushed onto the construction site to protect the sacred site. In response, the company’s security forces attacked the Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray. Now the tribe’s lawyer is requesting an emergency temporary restraining order to halt construction on this area of the pipeline. For more, we speak with Jan Hasselman, staff attorney with Earthjustice, who is representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at today’s hearing in federal court. And we speak with Dave Archambault, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Jan Hasselman, who’s an attorney with Earthjustice representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Can you explain what you filed on Friday—you’re about to go to federal court today, but what you filed on Friday—and then what happened on Saturday and how that relates, you believe, to the information you filed Friday with the court?

JAN HASSELMAN: Sure. Thank you for having me here, Amy. So, I think it’s important to emphasize that the tribe has been using the lawful process to vindicate its important legal rights in this matter. It participated in the administrative process around the permits, and when its concerns weren’t listened to, it brought a lawsuit.

So, on Friday afternoon, we filed some very important evidence in the lawsuit about the discovery of some sacred and major culturally significant sites that were directly in the pipeline’s route. And it was miles away from where any construction was happening. And we filed this evidence with the court Friday afternoon in order to support our claim that there should be a timeout on construction until some of these legal issues can get resolved. We were stunned and shocked to hear that they took that information and, Saturday morning, over a holiday weekend, went out and bulldozed the entire site. We have a sworn declaration from one of the tribe’s cultural experts that describes some of these sites, multiple gravesites and burials, very important archaeological features of the kind that are not found commonly. And we put all that in front of the court. And the next morning, it was gone. The shock and anguish felt by tribal members at this, and this abuse of the legal process, is really hard to describe.

AMY GOODMAN: So, are you suggesting you basically gave the court what the Dakota Access pipeline company and Energy Transfer would use as a roadmap to destroy?

JAN HASSELMAN: That looks like what has happened here. In the lawsuit, Energy Transfer said to the court that we hadn’t proven that there were sacred sites or important sites in the pipeline route, and they claimed to have looked with their private consultants. So, we went and provided exactly the evidence that they said that we needed to provide. And 12 hours later, the bulldozers were out.

AMY GOODMAN: How had you surveyed the land to establish this?

JAN HASSELMAN: Yeah, I think it’s important to remember that this all used to be theirs. It all used to be the tribe’s land. And I think everybody understands it was taken from them, and it was taken from them in a way that’s not acceptable. But it’s owned by somebody else now, and that landowner invited one of the tribe’s cultural experts out to come take a look. And he was sympathetic to the tribe’s concerns, and he wanted to understand why people were so worried about this pipeline. So, a few days prior to Friday, Tim Mentz, the tribe’s expert in these matters, went out and conducted a formal archaeological survey, in keeping with, you know, state and federal protocols. He went out, and he built maps of these very unique and important archaeological sites and the locations of these burials, that were right in the pipeline’s way. And that’s the information we put together and put in front of the court on Friday.

AMY GOODMAN: So what’s going to happen today in federal court?

JAN HASSELMAN: Well, what’s particularly shocking about this event is that we’re days away from getting some kind of resolution on these legal issues. We were in front of this same judge two weeks ago, or less than two weeks ago. We expect a decision on our request to stop the pipeline, while the issues are worked out. He said he would have that decision this week. They went out over a holiday weekend, just days before that event—before that decision, and tore up this ground. So, we’re going back to court. We’re asking the court to impose a timeout on additional construction here in the area of the Lake Oahe crossing at the Missouri River, at least until the court has a chance to issue a decision on the injunction motion sometime this week.

AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday morning, when we went out to the camps that have been set up—I mean, this is quite something, this largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades—we went to the Sacred Stone Camp, which was launched on April 1st on the land of the Standing Rock Sioux tribal historian LaDonna Brave Bull Allard. She told us about the repression and surveillance they’ve faced since the camp began.

LADONNA BRAVE BULL ALLARD: So, from the time we started the camp, April 1st, the helicopters and the planes, low-flying planes, have been here almost daily on a routine. We have the drones that come in in the evening. We know they are in full array, because they come in at night. They come through the whole camp. And when the people were gathering, the planes were numerous here, the helicopters are numerous here. We have been under surveillance. Right now, today, we have four large boats out in the river over by the access site.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Dave Archambault, the chair of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Can you explain what LaDonna Allard is talking about?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: So, this all started with the prayer. Our kids were the first ones to say, “We don’t want oil going underneath our water.” So, they had a prayer walk. And soon after that—it was called “spirit camp” in the beginning. And there was a staff that was put up, and people would go out and pray to stop this. So, what’s happening is it was—it’s always been a peaceful, prayerful standoff.

And I think what happens is the company or the government, or whoever it is that’s surveilling, doesn’t understand how peaceful, prayerful standoffs work. They look for confrontation. So, that’s what they know how to deal with. But when it’s prayerful and peaceful and when it’s something that the youth want, they have to try to figure out how to deal with us. And they send out aircrafts to check on the status. They’re probably trying to find out how big the camp is growing. And from April 1st, it was relatively small. It was a small camp. And it didn’t start growing until the company gave a 48-hour work notice to our Tribal Historic Preservation Office. Once that notice came, then the camp started growing.



AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Kenny Frost. We spoke to him at the Red Warrior Camp on Saturday morning, a consultant from the Southern Ute Tribe, about the lack of internet and cellphone connection at Standing Rock.

KENNY FROST: When the protectors came here defending the water, the governor of North Dakota pulled all emergency services out of here, because they were helping the people. And when they pulled those services and then realizing what was happening, they cut all cell reception here, as well. So all the cell signals that was once here is no longer here, but is only limited on high ground.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the point?

KENNY FROST: To cut off communication, because communication was coming out of here rapidly and as quickly with information to the general public, the whole wide world, basically, because of the internet, which is World Wide Web. And people were receiving information of exactly what was going on, on real time, and because the call went out for Native people and all people to come here to help preserve, protect and defend the water.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Kenny Frost of the Southern Ute Tribe talking about the lack of internet and cellphone communications. So the companies, the government are surveilling all of you, Chairman Archambault, but it’s increasingly difficult for you to communicate with each other. Is what—can you elaborate on what he’s saying?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: Amy, let me—let me let you know that I live here in Cannon Ball. This is where my home is. I used to run horses on the land that LaDonna Allard set up the camp. And I’ll tell you that this cell coverage has always been a problem. This isn’t something that just happened overnight. I ride horse through the valleys and everything, and there’s just poor cell coverage. And that’s how it’s always been.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, has it become increasingly difficult, even starting with a bad situation?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: It’s the same. It’s the same as it was a year ago. I have a cellphone, and I would ride horse—and that’s why the tribe, our tribe, tried to start its own cell company, cellphone company. We have Standing Rock Telecom. And it’s just to increase cell coverage for our members so they have better service. But it’s always been th same. The cell coverage has always been poor, especially in that valley.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Chairman Dave Archambault, as we wrap up, and then we’re going to move on to talk about where these dogs are from, how they were used—we’ll be speaking with a dog expert—and then talk about the companies, the kind of chain of command and ownership going back in the Dakota Access pipeline. This gathering, how unique it is? I mean, you, yourself, Chairman Archambault, were just recently arrested. But this gathering of more than a hundred nations—I saw you Friday night in the main camp as you were welcoming yet another tribal group coming from Montana—how significant, how unusual is this?

DAVE ARCHAMBAULT II: It’s powerful. It’s one of the most beautiful things that I’m fortunate to witness. I think when tribes come together in unity and with prayer, there’s a lot of healing that is taking place. And the tribes that are all coming, every one of them will share a story on how the government or how the corporate world has infringed on their indigenous rights, has infringed on their indigenous land, has contaminated their environment or their water in one way or another. And this unity coming together just says it’s time to stop.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Archambault, we want to thank you for being with us, chair of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, speaking to us from Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Jan Hasselman, attorney with Earthjustice, in Washington, D.C., he’s headed to federal court today to get a restraining order against the further construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. When we come back, where were these dogs from? What were they trained to do? Stay with us.

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