NEAR CANNON BALL – The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will be in federal court on Tuesday seeking to prevent Dakota Access Pipeline from further destroying sacred sites after the tribe says workers deliberately bulldozed burial grounds identified in court records.
Jan Hasselman, the tribe’s attorney, says an emergency motion filed Sunday for a temporary restraining order seeks to “get everybody to stand down” until a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rules on the tribe’s request for an injunction.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will not oppose the temporary restraining order, acknowledging in court papers filed Monday that the area has been the site of recent confrontations and the “public interest would be served by preserving peace” until the court rules on the injunction.
Hasselman, of the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said the tribe submitted important new evidence Friday afternoon about the discovery of at least 27 burials and other culturally significant stone features in the path of the pipeline.
Less than 24 hours later, Dakota Access workers graded the area identified in court records, removing or burying all stone features that were discovered in and adjacent to the pipeline right-of-way, the tribe says.
“The desecration of these ancient places has already caused the Standing Rock Sioux irreparable harm,” Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a statement. “We’re asking the court to halt this path of destruction.”
Dakota Access did not immediately respond to the tribe’s court documents filed Friday or Sunday. In a statement, spokeswoman Vicki Anderson Granado disputed the tribe’s claims.
“We were legally on private property that we have an easement on and have all the proper permits and approvals. We were constructing according to our plans. Additionally, there has been nothing destroyed as claimed,” Anderson Granado said.
The tribe’s motion seeks a temporary restraining order on any additional construction work in a two-mile area west of State Highway 1806 that was surveyed last week by Tim Mentz, the tribe’s former tribal historic preservation officer. It also seeks to temporarily halt construction in a 20-mile radius of the Missouri River crossing north of the reservation until the judge rules on the larger legal issues in the tribe’s case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps believes the majority of the lands that would be affected in a temporary restraining order are not within the agency’s jurisdiction, according to the court filings.
In court documents filed late Friday, Mentz describes sacred sites he discovered when the private landowner invited him to survey the area, including a stone feature he called “one of the most significant archaeological finds in North Dakota in many years.”
Mentz said he attempted to contact the State Historic Preservation Office late Friday to request confirmation of the cultural significance, but no one was in the office prior to the Labor Day weekend.
On Saturday morning, Dakota Access used bulldozers to begin clearing the precise area he described in court records filed the day before, Mentz wrote in court documents filed Sunday.
“I do not believe that the timing of this construction was an accident or coincidence,” Mentz wrote, adding that it appeared Dakota Access skipped past 20 miles of uncleared right-of-way to access that area.
The tribe wants to prevent further destruction of the sites and wants an opportunity to rebury human remains that were likely disturbed, the motion states.
“The elders say that reburying can help deal with the loss and hurt of disturbing these graves,” Mentz wrote. “These are people whose graves are in some cases known about and who have family connections in Cannon Ball.”
A hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday before Judge James E. Boasberg in U.S. District Court. The judge previously indicated he would rule on the tribe’s request for an injunction by the end of this week.