September 21, 2016 – In an amazing act of solidarity, over 1200 archaeologists, anthropologists, historians and museum directors sent a letter to President Obama, urging the White House administration to halt construction on the Dakota Access pipeline to prevent the destruction of cultural resources.
It is unusual for museums to engage in this type of advocacy, but speaks to the critical natural of this issue. The significance of the cultural artifacts along the proposed route is simply too great to sacrifice for a crude oil pipeline.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is currently suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is the primary federal agency that granted permits needed for the pipeline to be constructed. The focus of the lawsuit is that the Army Corps took an illegally narrow view of its responsibilities to protect and engage the Tribe when it granted the permits. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps violated multiple federal statutes, including the Clean Water Act, National Historic Protection Act, and National Environmental Policy Act, when it issued the permits. Of primary focus for the tribe is the potential destruction of cultural and sacred sites, impacts on the drinking water and overall environmental impacts caused by pipeline construction.
These concerns were validated with the Sept 3rd bulldozing of burial sites by the Dakota Access pipeline company.
We continue to ask for the Obama administration to revoke all permits granted under the authority of the US Army Corps of Engineers permit process titled Nationwide Permit 12. Furthermore we demand the Corps should exercise its discretion to order a full EIS be conducted on the entire project.
The group letter and press release:
“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.”
In a new letter sent to the Obama administration, over 1,200 museum directors, archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians expressed solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access pipeline.
In response to a groundswell of opposition to the pipeline project both on the ground and across the country, the administration released a statement on September 9th announcing that the Army will not authorize construction of the pipeline on Corps land until it can assess whether a more thorough analysis should be conducted. However, they have not yet committed to conduct a complete environmental impact statement, or that the Tribes would be adequately consulted.
The letter, sent to President Obama, the United States Department of Justice, Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers this week, expresses support for the Tribes’ treaty rights, denounces the destruction of sacred sites, and calls for meaningful consultation with the tribe and their input in decision-making.
“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,” the signers state. “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.”
The letter has galvanized unprecedented from support from these communities, with hundreds signed on in just the first 24 hours. There are now 1,280 signatories. 50 of those are executive directors of museums and institutions of archaeology or anthropology, including Smithsonian, Field Museum, American Museum of Natural History, and others. While the majority of the signatures are from the United States, museum staff and scientists from around the world, including Australia, Guatemala, Italy, and Brazil have signed on.
The full text of the letter and list of signers is available exclusively here.
“The signers of this letter are far from your typical activists,” said Beka Economopoulos, Director of The Natural History Museum, the institution that initiated the letter. “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.”
“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,” said James Powell, Former President and Director of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum and former President of the Franklin Museum of Science. “It is long past time for us to abandon fossil fuel projects that harm Native communities and threaten the future of our planet.”
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“Professional archaeologists have grown weary of watching federal agencies cowboy together their own set of rules to frame the circumstances at hand—in this case, the Army Corps of Engineers handling of Section 106 compliance (National Historic Preservation Act) for the Dakota Access Pipeline,” said David Hurst Thomas, Curator at the American Museum of Natural History in NY and Founding Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC. “It is too much to ask our feds to obey the same environmental and historical protection laws as the rest of us?”
“The Obama Administration has temporarily stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline’s illegal push toward contaminating Sioux water and its bullying tactics that deliberately desecrated Sioux Ancestors and a sacred place,” said Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Muscogee), President, The Morning Star Institute, and Recipient of a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. “DAPL first violated existing religious freedom, cultural rights, historic, environmental and archaeological laws by failing to consult with the Standing Rock and other Sioux nations, and most recently by denying descendants access to their sacred place and enforcing the ban with attack dogs and other weapons. Native people and supporters urge official actions to stop this shameful, illegal project permanently.”
“At The Field Museum we care deeply about sustaining the heritage and wellbeing of indigenous peoples,” said Richard Lariviere, PhD, President and CEO of The Field Museum in Chicago, IL. “Through our collections and research we recognize the profound importance of sacred landscapes for different cultures. And we have scientific programs throughout the Americas that concentrate on studying these sites and on translating our research into action that protects important landscapes, celebrates cultural diversity, and deepens cultural understanding.”
“Scholar-practitioners in museums and universities have now joined forces with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in an effort to protect their cultural legacy, as well as the land and water upon which they depend,” said Robert R. Janes, Ph.D. , Archaeologist, Museologist, and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Museum Management and Curatorship. “The Natural History Museums’ letter of support, now numbering 1,280 signatures, embodies the progressive civic action necessary to ensure social and climate justice for the Standing Rock Sioux.”
The letter was organized by The Natural History Museum, a mobile and pop-up museum that champions bold action on climate change. The museum made headlines last year when they organized a letter signed by 150 of the world’s top scientists, including several Nobel laureates, urging science and natural history museums to cut ties to fossil fuel interests. Since its release, eight institutions have responded by either divesting from fossil fuels, dropping a fossil fuel sponsor, or enacting new policies that refuse fossil fuel funding. The museum also gathered 552,000 signatures on a petition to get David Koch –a top funder of climate science disinformation–off the board of NY’s American Museum of Natural History – and he resigned just a few months later after serving on the board for 23 years.
In addition to sign-on letter initiated by The Natural History Museum, the American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology have both released strong statements of their own denouncing the Dakota Access pipeline.