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Over 1,200 Archaeologists and Museum Staff Condemn Destruction Wrought by Dakota Pipeline

Stand with Standing Rock march this month in Seattle (photo by John Duffy/Flickr)
Stand with Standing Rock march this month in Seattle (photo by John Duffy/Flickr)

In a letter released today, 1,281 archaeologists, museum directors and staff, anthropologists, and historians expressed their solidarity against the destruction at Standing Rock by the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Initiated by the Natural History Museum (NHM), a mobile museum founded by the arts collective Not an Alternative, the letter was sent to President Barack Obama’s administration.

“What was really significant about this letter, and how quickly it took off within the museum sector, is that these are institutions that don’t generally engage in advocacy,” Beka Economopoulos, director of NHM, said over the phone. She noted that this letter follows one NHM initiated last spring, signed by scientists calling for science and natural history museums to cut ties with fossil fuels and climate change deniers.

“With this letter we’re inviting museum officials and archaeologists and anthropologists to demonstrate leadership within their area of expertise,” Economopoulos added. “We believe that these institutions are not monolithic, that there are very good people working on the inside that want to make positive change in the world and that’s really what this letter is about, creating space for champions on the inside to demonstrate leadership on climate change and Native concerns.”

Those signers include professionals at the Smithsonian Institution, Field Museum, and American Museum of Natural History, as well as institutions around the world. Robert R. Janes, an archaeologist, museologist, and editor-in-chief emeritus of museum management and curatorship, told Hyperallergic he was “overwhelmed by this amount of support from academics and museum practitioners — all of whom are normally conservative and ‘neutral’ when it comes to societal issues. We are witnessing the emergence of a new level of mindfulness among these professionals — a mindfulness grounded in both social justice and climate justice.”

As reported by Hyperallergic, bulldozers for the pipeline construction plowed through burial grounds and sacred sites in South Dakota earlier this month, leading to a confrontation between demonstrators and security. That following Friday, September 9, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Interior released a joint statement stating that the Army would “not authorize constructing the Dakota Access pipeline on Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can determine whether it will need to reconsider any of its previous decisions regarding the Lake Oahe site under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or other federal laws.” However, this only affirmed a “pause” for construction, with other heritage sites still at risk.

“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,” Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute and recipient of a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, stated in the release. “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.”

The letter concludes:

We call on the federal government to abide by its laws and to conduct a thorough environmental impact statement and cultural resources survey on the pipeline’s route, with proper consultation with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. We stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and affirm their treaty rights, tribal sovereignty, and the protection of their lands, waters, cultural and sacred sites, and we stand with all those attempting to prevent further irreparable losses.

The full text of the letter is online at the Natural History Museum.

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