Why Sacred Sites Were Destroyed for the Dakota Access Pipeline
By Chip Colwell
This summer, Tim Mentz Sr. told the world via a YouTube video, which has now been removed by the user, about the destruction of his cultural heritage. A former tribal historic preservation officer of the Standing Rock Sioux, Mentz wore a baseball cap, rimless glasses and two thin braids of graying hair. He was upset and spoke rapidly about the area behind him, an expanse of the Great Plains cut by a new 150-foot-wide road.
The scene on Sept. 3 as sacred sites and artifacts were bulldozed by workers for the Dakota Access Pipeline in locations pinpointed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in court papers filed the day before.Red Warrior Camp / Facebook
Two days before, Mentz had testified to the DC District Court to report the area that lay in the path of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) corridor holds 82 cultural features and 27 graves. By the next day, DAPL construction workers graded the area. Behind where Mentz stood in the video was a place known as the Strong Heart Society Staff, where a sacred rattle or staff was placed within stone rings. Here members of the elite warrior society would come to make pledges. Mentz explained the site is tangible evidence that Strong Heart members followed a "spiritual path."
As an anthropologist who has worked with Native Americans for more than a decade to document their sacred places in the paths of new power plants, power lines, water pipelines and more, the battle in North Dakota is all too familiar.
I have seen how the legal process behind environmental and archaeological reviews for energy projects, such DAPL, work—and often don't work. The tragedy in North Dakota for cultural heritage—and the violence against protesters that has resulted—comes in part from a failure of the U.S. legal system. Consultation with tribes too often breaks down because federal agencies are unwilling to consider how Native Americans view their own heritage.
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"Archaeologists—they don't see these," Mentz said in the video of features, including graves, within the Strong Heart Society site. "The [archaeological] firm that came through here walked over these. They do not have a connection that we have to our spiritual walk of life."
If completed, the Dakota Access Pipeline would run from North Dakota to Illinois for nearly 1,200 miles, carrying up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil per day. DAPL would meander across the landscape, through farms, around cities, buried underground and across more than 200 waterways. The passage of the pipeline over and under waterways requires permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This federal authorization in turns requires compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).
Passed into law in 1966, the NHPA arrived in the churning wake of WWII, when America's waiting future was threatening its irreplaceable past. The expansion of American infrastructure—highways, dams, electrical grids—was swiftly destroying ancient archaeological sites, cemeteries and historic buildings. With the NHPA, Congress declared that preservation of America's shared heritage is in the public interest.
The stand-off between Native Americans in North Dakota and an oil pipeline project developer and police forces has inspired protests across the country.Paulann Egelhoff / Flickr
When considering a new undertaking, a number of effects on historic properties must be considered: direct (like physical destruction), indirect (like spoiling a viewshed), short-term, long-term or cumulative (like how one pipeline may not harm a site, but perhaps a dozen of them will). The NHPA does not guarantee preservation. But it requires that decision-makers balance America's interest in development with the need to honor its history.
For many years, Native Americans would have had little input on a project such as DAPL. But in 1992, Congress amended the NHPA to formally include traditional cultural properties. These are places that, because of their association with Native American cultural practices or beliefs of a living community, "are rooted in that community's history" and "are important in maintaining the continuing cultural identity of the community."
The amendments directed federal agencies, in carrying out their responsibilities under the NHPA, to consult with Indian tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to these sacred places.
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In North Dakota, federal and state review and compliance measures for DAPL were combined. Archaeologists walked the pipeline's 357 miles in North Dakota, locating 149 sites potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Engineers rerouted DAPL to avoid all but nine sites.
Archaeologists serve an important role in documenting historic properties. But they tend to view the world through the lens of science and history. They search out buried villages, pottery shards, bones, broken stone tools. Yet in my experience, they rarely have the expertise and knowledge to identify traditional cultural properties, which are grounded in identity, culture, spirituality and the land's living memory.
Traditional cultural properties in the U.S. can often be archaeological sites, artifacts that ancestors once touched and places that mark ancestral homes. But just as often they can be a mountain where spirits dwell or a spring where water is gathered for ceremonies. They can be a traditional area for collecting plants or animals that sustain and heal communities. They can be origin places where ancestors emerged onto the earth or named places recalled in ancient tongues.
Zuni elders Octavius Seowtewa and John Bowannie, and archaeologist Sarah Herr, look at a shrine archaeologists misidentified. Chip Colwell
This is why documenting traditional cultural properties requires not the work of archaeologists but Native Americans as well. On one project I conducted with the Hopi tribe to detail cultural resources along a 470-mile power line, we needed weeks of research to identify more than 200 plant species that the tribe uses in its traditional religious and healing practices.
On another project I conducted with the Zuni tribe, I watched as elders explained to the archaeologists excavating a site in the path of a new Arizona highway that they had placed a survey flag in a semicircle of rocks – which was likely a shrine used to bless and protect the ancient village. When it comes to traditional practices, Native Americans see what archaeologists overlook.
For DAPL, a tribal survey was not undertaken. In North Dakota the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers tried to engage in consultation dozens of times, but the Standing Rock Sioux largely refused because the federal agency only wanted to consult on a narrow corridor at water crossings instead of the entire pipeline.
Once, though, consultation did occur at Lake Oahe on March 8. Current designs call for the pipeline to go under this now controversial waterway, which the Sioux want protected. There Standing Rock representatives showed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff important cultural resources—a cemetery, ancient village and sacred stone. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials admitted they were unaware of some of these sites.
Hopi elder Harold Polingyumptewa digs up a sööyöpi root, used for healing. Chip Colwell
On Sept. 21 and then again on Oct. 20, according to an email I received from the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office, delegations that included law enforcement, Standing Rock Sioux officials and tribal and state archaeologists went to the areas that Mentz suggested contained 82 sites and 27 burials.
They found on closer inspection—tribal archaeologists hadn't been allowed on private land—that none of the features were disturbed by the 150-foot corridor, with the exception of four rocks that might have been displaced. Two bones were recovered, but analysis showed them to be from a horse, cow or bison. It would seem that the main sites Mentz agonized over had escaped physical destruction. However, tribal input would be needed to determine if the sites, so close to the corridor, could still suffer from indirect and cumulative impacts.
Not Too Late
Because consultation broke down and so little of the pipeline has received tribal survey, we must wonder how much has been missed. Even worse, we'll likely never know. Nearly 90 percent of the pipeline has already been completed.
This is an unfortunate but common occurrence. Last month I went out with traditional leaders of the Zuni tribe in New Mexico to identify traditional cultural properties under the NHPA in the path of a massive network of water pipelines. When we arrived, we found dozens of construction workers busily laying the new pipe. An archaeological survey was already completed; the construction had begun with the consent of the federal agency. We were too late.
Chip Colwell is senior curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and lecturer on anthropology at the University of Colorado in Denver. Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Tiffany Means
Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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