Statement on Standing Rock from UC Berkeley Anthropology Faculty

November 9, 2016

November 2016

To President Obama, the United States Department of Justice, Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers:

We, the faculty of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, join the Oceti Skowin Oyate (the Great Sioux Nation), the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the numerous Native tribal nations and individuals protecting sacred lands and sites threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).  We denounce the recent treatment of persons, whose goal is  to protect sacred lands and sites from further desecration and who are standing firm to protect their cherished environment from the potential of disastrous pipeline leaks.  We denounce the recent destruction of ancient burial sites, places of prayer and other significant cultural objects sacred to the Lakota and Dakota people.

We join the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) and multiple other departments and organizations in opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and calling for a halt to this project.

The $3.8 billion pipeline project is proposed to carry approximately 470,000 barrels per day of fracked oil from the Bakken oil fields, a significant distance of over 1,170 miles to Illinois.  The pipeline will cross the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri rivers, where it threatens to contaminate primary sources of drinking water and damage multiple Indigenous burial grounds, historic villages and sundance sites that surround the area.  Many of these same sites were threatened when the area was flooded in 1948 by the construction of the Oahe dam.  

Moreover, the Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind this environmentally and culturally disastrous project, has provided further insult to the people of Standing Rock by appropriating the word “Dakota” (friend or ally) in the project’s name.

The project has defied legal obligations to the Native people on multiple fronts.

As noted by AAA, the conduct of the US government in its approval of the pipeline proposal breaches the terms of the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie Treaties between the Oceti Sakowin and the United States.  Further, the Army Corps of Engineers has violated multiple federal laws in its failure to consult with the tribe about its sovereign interests.

A review by the SAA determined that there are grave unresolved questions as to whether the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has fulfilled its National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) Section 106 responsibilities in relation to the DAPL.  The society cites possible irregularities in USACE’s use of their Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12) to avoid fully complying with NHPA’s Section 106.  Despite USACE’s assessment that no cultural materials would be disturbed as part of the project, on September 2, 2016, the company behind DAPL bulldozed land containing Native American burial grounds, grave markers, and artifacts.  Ancient cairns and stone rings were among the remains destroyed.

What role does anthropology play in current struggles for self-determination? The Water Protectors at Standing Rock sought to leverage historic preservation law against the corporate raiders of their cultural landscape. By identifying and documenting a sacred place, they made legible to those unworthy of the knowledge a location that included the bones of ancestors and other important and irreplaceable wonders that should have been protected in perpetuity. They did this because they are fighting for their right to live and to demand the resources and respect due a healthy community. They did this because, unlike their neighbors in Bismarck who were able to defend their majority white community from the dangers of the pipeline just by asking that it be moved, the Water Protectors knew they would have to mobilize other authorities and legal mechanisms to get anything even approaching equal justice. They did this because by law, the pipeline construction must stop to consider how unique and irreplaceable cultural resources might be negatively impacted so as to prevent the loss of these important and irreplaceable sites. But they were betrayed when just hours after they filed this evidence with the federal court, on a holiday weekend to mask their crime, the company sent bulldozers miles ahead of the construction zone to obliterate the sacred sites. This is an inexcusable desecration by the corporate entities behind the pipeline and a failure of the law to protect what can never be replaced.  

Former tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz called the discovery of the sites “one of the most significant archaeological finds in North Dakota in many years,” and Tribal Chairman David Archambault II has stated, “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 share the concern of the Society for American Archaeology that these sacred sites have been destroyed due primarily to a failure to adequately consult with the tribe.

The procedures followed by USACE are also in opposition to Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which asserts, “states shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and representative informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

Iyuskin American Horse has been one of the Sincangu/Oglala Lakota protecting the land against the pipeline, and asserts, “We are not protesters.  We are protectors.  We’re peacefully defending our land and our ways of life.  We are standing together in prayer, and fighting for what is right.”

Events during the past week, with peaceful protesters being subjected to attack with dogs, pepper spray and armored vehicles and mass arrest are horrifying and evoke United States’ policies toward Native peoples during through the 19thcentury.  Iyuskin American Horse and others recognize this as part of a long history of abuse at the hands of the government, observing, “It saddens me that the government time and time again continues to ravage my people with the same treatment and attitude, only different weapons.”

We ask the Federal Government to stand down.  We demand the Federal government act to stop other police efforts to shut down protests and to respect the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous groups over those of energy corporations.  We ask the government to follow its own rules of law and act in a manner towards indigenous peoples in line with expectations of the global community.

We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and affirm their treaty rights, tribal sovereignty and the protections of the lands, waters, cultural and sacred sites, and we stand with all those attempting to prevent further irreparable losses.

Berkeley Anthropology Faculty

Laurie A. Wilkie, Department Chair/Professor
Sabrina Agarwal, Professor
Lawrence Cohen, Professor
Meg Conkey, Professor Emeritus
Mariane Ferme, Professor
Junko Habu, Professor
Christine Hastorf, Professor
Cori Hayden, Assoc Professor
Rosemary Joyce, Professor
Kent Lightfoot, Professor
Lisa Maher, Assistant Professor
Laura Nader, Professor
Aihwa Ong, Professor
Stefania Pandolfo, Professor
Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Professor
Jun Sunseri, Assistant Professor