Tribal Archaeologist Alleges Dakota Access Deliberately Bulldozed Tribal Graves

Following the violent tactics used by Dakota Access’s goon squad Saturday, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes have asked for a temporary restraining order to stop work on the controversial pipeline and to bar Dakota Access from “engaging with or antagonizing” protestors until a federal court can rule on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s lawsuit against the pipeline company.

The Obama Administration doesn’t think the Standing Rock Sioux will win that lawsuit, but it agrees that a restraining order would be a good idea:

…the Corps is aware that Dakota Access, LLC’s work near Lake Oahe has been the subject of several recent confrontations. The Corps acknowledges that the public interest would be served by preserving peace near Lake Oahe until the Court can render its wellconsidered opinion on Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The Corps therefore does not oppose this short and discrete temporary restraining order [John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Environment and Natural Resources, United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Response to Plaintiff’s and Intervenor-Plaintiff’s Motions for Temporary Restraining OrderStanding Rock Sioux Tribe v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Case No. 1-16-cv-0153-JEB, 2016.09.05].

The bulldozing Dakota Access conducted Saturday that prompted outrage may have been a deliberate effort to destroy evidence relevant to the tribe’s lawsuit. Former tribal historic preservation officer Tim Mentz, Sr., filed a sworn declaration with the court Friday describing the site as containing “one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years.” According to that declaration, buffalo grazer Dave Meyer had expressed concern about “potential destruction of culturally important sites” and invited Mentz and his team onto his land to look for cultural artifacts. The area Mentz visited is about 1.75 miles from spot where Dakota Access is supposed to cross Lake Oahe. When he visited on August 28, the pipeline route had been staked and mowed, but no construction equipment was in sight.

We immediately observed a number of stone features in the pipeline route plainly visible from the edge of the corridor. I am very confident that this site, located within the center of the corridor, includes burials because the site contained rock cairns which are commonly used to mark burials. Two cairns were plainly visible and a possible third one existed above the cut area. I then noticed to the east twenty meters of this area a prairie dog town and multiple stone rings visible at that distance. Since prairie dogs eat all vegetation to the soil, these stone features were very visible and very distinct. (I discussed the importance of these kinds of features in my first declaration.) The stone rings were also directly in the cleared pipeline corridor [Tim Mentz, Sr., Suppelemental DeclarationStanding Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps, Case No. 1-16-cv-0153-JEB, 2016.09.02].

Over the next three days, Mentz and his team identified 82 stone features, including at least 27 burials and five sites meeting criteria for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Again, Mentz filed this information about this site on Friday. Dakota Access bulldozed exactly this site on Saturday. In a declaration filed Sunday, Mentz alleges that Dakota Access went out of its way to disturb tribal graves and destroy the cultural artifacts before any state officials could verify Mentz’s observations:

I do not believe that the timing of this construction was an accident or coincidence. Based on my observations, the nearest area of construction in the right of way west of Highway 1806 is around 20 miles away. It appears that DAPL drove the bulldozers approximately 20 miles of uncleared right of way to access the precise area that we surveyed and described in my declaration. The work started very early in the morning and they were accompanied by private security with dogs and with a helicopter overhead, indicating that the work was planned with care and that controversy was expected.

It is generally known that DAPL’s construction crews don’t normally work on weekends. To the best of my knowledge, this work over a holiday weekend was unusual [Mentz, Declaration, Standing Rock v. Army Corps, 2016.09.04].

Mentz says there may be similar artifacts on the east side of Highway 1806 that Dakota Access has not yet bulldozed. Judge James E. Boasberg agreed to hear the restraining order motions today at 3 p.m. Eastern in Washington, D.C. If Dakota Access has destroyed evidence, Judge Boasberg should issue an immediate injunction and allow Mentz and other tribal experts to survey and recover what may be left of their ancestors.

36 Responses to Tribal Archaeologist Alleges Dakota Access Deliberately Bulldozed Tribal Graves

  1. mike from iowa

    W/O knowing for sure, seems like DAPL went outside normal M/O to bulldoze possible (probable) historical sacred site. Can hardly wait for their side of the story.

  2. Yes, Dakota Access has behaved badly. Their only purpose of going to this site on Labor Day weekend was to destroy a possible cultural site that was the subject of a court filing and to provoke protesters. Let’s get to the bottom of what culturally significant objects are there, especially graves.

  3. mike from iowa

    The Morton County authorities said. said no tear gas or canine units were used to remove the activists. (from UPI)

    Who you gonna believe?-the sheriff or your lying eyes?

  4. I guess, if that is the sheriff’s contention, there will be no “film at 11:00!” :-)

  5. mike from iowa

    From what little I have read about Morton County Sheriff, he seems to have some problems with Natives, protesters or both.

    I can see him hounding protesters clear into Illinois claiming “hot pursuit.”

  6. You have to parse the words, Mike. Tear gas and dogs were used and failed to remove the activists. Later when the activists climbed back over the fence on their own, no tear gas or dogs were used to achieve that result.

  7. Paul Seamans

    mike from Iowa, “hot pursuit into Illinois by Sheriff Buford T. Justice”.

    I am going to contact Morton County Sheriff Kirschman to play Buford in my remake of Smokey and the Bandit.

  8. Judge Boasberg ruled that work must pause between Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe but not west of the highway, including the land with the sites Mentz describes and that Dakota Access disrupted Saturday.

  9. Makes sense when you think about it. On somebody’s private land the tribe has no standing in court to challenge the movement of rocks.

  10. In a response before this afternoon’s ruling, Dakota Access said its crews always work six days a week, and Saturday’s work was long-scheduled.

    There was no change to the starting time or days of work. Dakota Access’ normal
    construction schedule has been in place for months, and Dakota Access’ construction plan was
    established over a year ago. According to the plan, construction staff works 6 days a week, with a normal day of construction commencing at 6:30 a.m. Construction was always planned for Saturday, September 3, 2016. And as was previously planned, crews did not work on Sunday September 4 or Monday September 5.

    Dakota Access reminds the court that the Saturday protestors were violating a restraining order against such trespassing and “making horrible threats of physical violence directed against DA, its employees and construction workers.”

    Dakota Access says it altered its construction schedule weeks ago to complete route prep near Lake Oahe to avoid conflicts with a powwow taking place this week.

    Indeed, due to the logistical coordination required, it would be nearly (if not outright) impossible to reschedule construction and reroute construction locations on a Friday evening for construction that is to take place the next morning. Plaintiffs’ allegations regarding any purported retaliation to the Mentz declaration are not plausible.

    Dakota Access contends that Mentz once “suggested to DA long ago that he should have been hired by DA,” thus implying that Mentz is just mad he didn’t get to cash in on the pipeline project. Dakota Access says Mentz entered Meyer’s property without permission and that Meyer cut him slack at first, but discovered Mentz’s agenda and withdrew that slack. Dakota Access contends that six of the sites Mentz identifies are on top of a natural gas pipeline and thus cannot be original artifacts.

    Dakota Access says there are no bones:

    During the walk through and during grading, nothing was found. Bones were not
    unearthed. Graves were not found. No structure of historical significance was noted. The area
    in question was mowed and cleared well before the Mentz Declaration was filed, and nothing
    during or after grading has been unearthed to suggest the presence of any grave or cultural site.

    Dakota Access says protestors Saturday “turned violent” within five minutes, “stampeded the construction area with horses, dogs and vehicles,” “assaulted private security officers,” “hit and jabbed” security personnel “with fence posts and flag poles,” “threatened with knives and screamed,” “threatened to stomp them, and kick them,” and “attempted to stab the guard dogs.” “Dogs and guards received medical treatment.”

  11. Correct that: Apparently Dakota Access agreed to stop work in the area mentioned above:

  12. Paul Seamans

    I apoligize to Sheriff Kirchmeir. I spelled his name wrong. Maybe I’ll just keep referring to him as Sheriff Buford T. justice.

    The Army Corps of Engineers is getting all the flack for not protecting cultural resources. The blame really lies with the North Dakota Public Service Commission. During their permit hearings on the DAPL they could have instituted stricter requirements for the protection of cultural resources. They did nothing. The same thing applies in South Dakota during the DAPL permit hearings. They did little to nothing to protect cultural resources.

    Want to be upset on this? Be upset with the ND PSC and the SD PUC.

  13. We haven’t established that there are any cultural resources at this particular site, Mr. Seamans. What say you to the claim that 6 of the sites Mentz claims are graves are actually over a natural gas pipeline so they can’t be graves? What say you to the claim that the bulldozed area that Mentz claims included some graves did not turn up any bones? The protesters were right there. Right there. Did they find any bones? Count me as skeptical about Mentz’s allegation that he identified 27 grave sites from a distance – based upon seeing rocks on the ground. As Clara Peller would say, “Where’s the beef?”

  14. Paul Seamans

    Mr. Rorschach, do all ancient burials contain bones? Don’t these old bones go back to dust with time? These are not recent burials.

    Your claim that these graves are over a natural gas pipeline is a new one on me. I would appreciate knowing where you have heard this information.

    I guess that we won’t know for sure if graves were destroyed by Dakota Access’ dozers. Evidently Dakota Access must have given enough credence to Tim Mentz’s report if they were willing to deadhead their bulldozers to this site on a labor Day Saturday and make sure that they destroyed any evidence.

  15. This is insane. Good Holy Lord is it ever.

  16. Mr. Mentz has an agenda to stop the pipeline. That’s fine. But if the claim is now going to be that there are no bones, but these alleged graves with no bones are being disturbed nonetheless because Mr. Mentz says they are graves – I agree with Adam. This is insane.

  17. mike from iowa

    “threatened with knives Not just knives, but biiiiggggggg knives (8) according to the Sheriff’s department.

    I doubt all buried bones that survived all this time would have been in the topsoil layer. The judge from an earlier hearing made sure everyone knew that DAPL would be losing money if forced to wait. Makes one think maybe money is all that is sacred and/or hallowed anymore.

  18. Paul Seamans

    Mr. Rorschach, my agenda is also to stop the pipeline. Gov. Dalrymple’s agenda is to see that the pipeline is built. Are we to assume that everyone with an agenda is lying?

  19. No, Mr. Seamans. We don’t assume that everybody with an agenda is lying. I start from the position that the archaeologists who surveyed the route did so in good faith. I have seen no proof to convince me otherwise.

    Somebody looking across a field and claiming that from a distance they can see 27 graves based upon rocks on the ground prompts my skepticism. The person who said that has an agenda. The person who made that assertion has offered no proof to back up his claim.

    Now you seem to be suggesting that even if there are no bones there we should simply assume that they are ancient graves from which the bones have turned to dust. It’s getting pretty farfetched.

  20. Paul Seamans

    Mr Rorschach, at most it appears that two feet of topsoil was stripped and pushed into piles on both sides of the 150 foot wide easement. As mike from Iowa has suggested there is little likelihood that bones would be found in that top layer of soil. If you are going to bury somebody only two feet deep you just as well leave them on top for the wolves.

  21. Speculation isn’t worth much, Mr. Seamans. All I have seen is speculation. If Mr. Mentz or anyone has any proof I’m sure it will be submitted to the court. I’ll wait and see. Until then all we know is that the archaeologists have not found anything of cultural significance.

  22. Paul Seamans

    Mr. Rorschach, I don’t think that you will believe anything that Tim Mentz says until DAPL’s backhoes start exposing human bones. Isn’t that kind of too late then?

  23. mike from iowa

    Who surveyed the site for DAPL. Rohr?

  24. mike from iowa

    The agenda to shutdown the pipeline is not contingent on archeological sites alone. They are a hazard to the environment every step of the way. Maybe North Dakota sent junior grade scientists to survey-kinda like South Dakota allowing an un-trained junior coroner to investigate Benda’s death.

  25. The fact that Mr. Mentz is Native American, or that he is opposed to the pipeline, does not relieve him of the burden of backing up his claims with evidence. The fact somebody says something doesn’t mean it’s true – as we are reminded every time Donald Trump speaks. The burden is on Mr. Mentz, and you, to prove that there is something of cultural significance on that site. I’m not telling you how to do that. I’m just waiting for you to do that. Until you or Mr. Mentz offers up proof, we are left with the archaeologists’ report.

  26. Until somebody proves Benda was murdered, we’re left with the finding that he committed suicide. You guys are dealing in speculation. I’m signing off of this thread until you can come up with a sound basis for your claims.

  27. Don Coyote

    @mlia: Even a “junior grade scientist” has forgotten more than you ever knew about the environmental impact of oil pipelines. The oil is gonna come out of North Dakota one way or the other. If you prefer the highly flammable oil to be shipped by rail endangering the citizens of the hundreds of towns the unit trains roll through, so be it.

  28. mike from iowa

    Especially when they get paid to disremember stuff by their employer. Now tell me stuff like that is pure speculation.

    The few archeological sites I’ve seen that were investigated have never used bulldozers to help remove soil. The dirt is dug by hand and usually sifted to isolate any small important fragments.

    One more thing, when officials refuse to release relevant information, speculation is about all that is left to provide answers that are probably public information being illegally kept from the public.

    Who were the archeologists hired to survey the site for DAPL?

  29. mike from iowa

    I have seen several reports that expressly claim that the State Historical Preservation Office did not get to survey the area before the bulldozers tore it up.

    I have yet to see any group in favor of the pipeline deny this.

  30. Jill Stein was there when the judge ruled for a partial TRO, where was Hillary? Why are Democrats so squeamish about Minotity issues that affect all people? Obama was at Standing Rock and spoke of good things, but big oil trumps all. That is the trust issue we all hear so much about regarding Democrats. They have themselves to blame for the lack of standing for what is right. Heidi is also AWOL on this. She owes her position to the support given by the tribes.

  31. Why was the crossing of the Missouri moved from Bismarck to the new proposed location?

    Help me out Paul?

    What does Dakota Access say about that?

    I’m cynical, Kalamazoo n BP , the Yellowstone, etc.

    This isn’t just about archeological sites. It’s about doing things differently
    N pushing that hard fact before mother earth kills humanity.

  32. Paul Seamans

    Spike, there are a few reasons for moving the DAPL from north of Bismarck but the one reason that I remember was because it was too close to Bismarck’s water wells.

    The route by Cannonball may also be just a little bit shorter. The crossing by Bismarck is where the Missouri River is flowing, unlike by Cannonball where the crossing is actually under Lake Oahe. The Bismarck crossing would have involved a lot less pipe.

    But you and I both know why the crossing was moved to Cannonball.

  33. How we got a federal district judge that knows absolutely zilch about NDN law is a real kick in the you-know-what.

  34. mike from iowa

    From Jerry’s link, Spoke and Paul. Second, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe clearly has the moral high ground. An earlier proposal for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River north of Bismarck, North Dakota, was scrapped because it threatened the capital’s water supply. So the very decision to move the route south was to sacrifice Native communities.

    Thanks, Jerry