YouTube: Tim Mentz, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, describes the sacred sites and burial grounds in North Dakota

Hearing ordered after Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reports destruction of sacred sites

A federal judge has ordered an emergency hearing after the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reported the destruction of sacred sites and burial grounds in North Dakota.

On Friday, the tribe disclosed several significant cultural finds in the path of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline. A day later, security staff working for the project unleashed dogs and employed mace on #NoDAPL resisters, several of whom -- including a pregnant woman and a young girl -- suffered injuries after they asked construction crews to stop working on sacred ground.

“On Saturday, Dakota Access Pipeline and Energy Transfer Partners brazenly used bulldozers to destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts,” Chairman David Archambault II said in a press release on Sunday. “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’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction.”

According to the tribe, Dakota Access crews removed topsoil across an area about 150 feet wide that stretched for two miles near the confluence of the Cannonball River and the Missouri River. The work destroyed stone features, including prayer rings and cairns that are used to mark burial grounds.

“I surveyed this land and we confirmed multiple graves and specific prayer sites,” Tim Mentz Sr., the tribe's former longtime historic preservation officer, said in a press release on Saturday. “Portions, and possibly complete sites, have been taken out entirely.”

The destruction -- which Archambault described as "devastating" -- prompted the tribe to file an emergency motion on Sunday for a temporary restraining order against Dakota Access. It asks for work to be halted along the pipeline route pending a ruling on the tribe's request for a preliminary injunction.

Danny Grassrope was among the #NoDAPL resisters who were part of a confrontation at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo from Sacred Stone Camp

Judge James E. Boasberg took action on Monday -- despite it being a federal holiday -- and ordered the parties to report to a hearing on Tuesday. It will take place at 3pm in Courtroom 19 of the federal courthouse in Washington D.C., the same place where the tribe asked for the preliminary injunction less than two weeks ago.

Additionally, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, which has been allowed to intervene in the case, filed its own emergency request for a temporary restraining order. It cites the tactics used against the #NoDAPL resisters, about 100 of whom were involved in the confrontation on Saturday.

"Site protectors of all ages, outraged at Dakota Access’s clear intent to engage in construction while knowingly destroying sacred sites identified earlier in the week, attempted to halt construction and preserve evidence," the tribe's motion, which was filed on Sunday, states. "In a calculated response, Dakota Access hired a paramilitary security force to attack the site protectors, including women, children, and the elderly with vicious and dangerous breed dogs, such a Pit Bulls and German Shepherds, not trained for security service. Dakota Access paramilitary squad used canisters of tear gas, and pepper spray against the site protectors. A number of the site protectors were injured by the pepper spray and gas, and bitten by the vicious attack dogs."

In a statement, Chairman Harold Frazier blamed officials in North Dakota for the escalating tensions. He called on Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) -- who issued an emergency declaration last month as thousands of tribal citizens gathered at the #NoDAPL resistance camps -- to sit down to a meeting.

"State and local law enforcement officials keep telling the media, without proof, that the protesters are committing unlawful acts," Frazier said in his statement on Sunday. "In my opinion unleashing vicious attack dogs on women and children, and spraying dozens of unarmed people simply because they are exercising their constitutional right to assemble, is unlawful."

Law enforcement -- mainly Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier -- have indeed been labeling the #NoDAPL movement as "unlawful" even though no major charges have been filed against anyone since the Sacred Stone Camp went up in April as the first resistance camp. No one was arrested on Saturday.

"Any suggestion that this was a peaceful protest, is false. This was more like a riot than a protest," Kirchmeier said on Sunday. "Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles. While no arrests were made at the scene, we are actively investigating the incident and individuals who organized and participated in this unlawful event."

Representatives of the Sacred Stone Camp acknowledged that their efforts to protect sacred sites from destruction preceded the confrontation on Saturday. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, the Section 106 historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said the clash occurred on the 153rd anniversary of the 1863 White Stone Hill Massacre, which occurred at a site east of Cannon Ball.

"This morning, they told me Dakota Access was constructing. They are going over our culture, our land, our heart," Allard, who founded the Sacred Stone Camp in April, said on Saturday. "Today, on the day we remember those tears and that heartbreak, they are running over Mother Earth. I stood on that ground as the dogs barked and I prayed.”

During the August 24 hearing in the case, Judge Boasberg said he needed time to rule on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's request for the preliminary injunction. At the time, he indicated he would issue a decision sometime this week but that was before the disclosure of the cultural sites along the pipeline path.

He also took some solace in knowing that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- the defendant in the lawsuit -- had not yet granted a key easement for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe at a site near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Without the approval, a crucial portion of the 1,172-mile pipeline Dakota Access Pipeline can't be used to transport oil out of North Dakota.

Despite lacking the easement, Dakota Access has continued work along various parts of the pipeline. The path starts in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and comes within a half-mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation before it enters South Dakota.

From there, it cuts a wide path in Iowa -- where the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Meskwaki Tribe have raised objections. It crosses over a burial ground in the northwest part of the state.

The route ends in Illinois and it would carry about 470,000 barrels of crude oil a day. It has the capacity to carry up to 570,000 barrels a day, and possibly more, according to Dakota Access.

Relevant Documents:
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order | Declaration of Tim Mentz, Sr. | Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order

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