Thursday, March 09, 2017

River Where the Sacred Stones Are Made - Oceti Sakonwin

 The force of those two rivers coming together formed a great whirlpool where perfectly round stones were created that are considered to be sacred to the Mandan, Arikara, Cheyenne, and the Oceti Sakonwin.

A friend thought I “might find the attached document from the Society of American Archaeology Government Affairs news update interesting.”

And I did.
As one of two solicited pieces on the crisis over the Dakota Access Pipeline in the Cannonball/Lake Oahe area, SAA asked Mr. Jon Eagle, the Tribal Historical Preservation Officer (THPO) of the Standing Rock Tribe of Sioux, to draft a column presenting his perspectives. The other solicited piece was that from Fern Swenson, Director of the Archaeology & Historic Preservation Division and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, State Historical Society of North Dakota, published in the November 2016 Government Affairs Update. Mr. Eagle's viewpoint is presented below. As with all solicited opinion in the Update, SAA provides a forum for the dissemination of knowledge and discussion. Views expressed are solely those of the writers, and the Society does not endorse, approve, or censor them.

My name is Jon Eagle Sr. I was appointed Tribal Historic Preservation Officer by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Council on February 8th, 2016. The SRST/THPO manages and protects cultural resources, sacred areas, and sites within the boundaries of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe according to original boundaries of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and 1868, and aboriginal homelands of the Oceti Sakonwin, or the Great Sioux Nation. Our language, creation stories, star knowledge, oral histories, and sacred knowledge are the database that allows me as a THPO to properly identify and evaluate a sacred site without having to disturb the ground. 

The confluence of the Cannon Ball River and the Missouri River is a site of religious and cultural significance to the Oceti Sakonwin. The Cannon Ball River is known as Inyan Wakan Kagapi Wakpa (River Where the Sacred Stones Are Made). The Missouri River is known as Mni Sose (Turbulent Water). The force of those two rivers coming together formed a great whirlpool where perfectly round stones were created that are considered to be sacred to the Mandan, Arikara, Cheyenne, and the Oceti Sakonwin.

This area was once a place of commerce, where traditional enemies camped within sight of each other. The tribes who visited this area had such reverence for the land that no blood was spilt in this sacred place. It contains sacred stones where the people to this day go to pray and ask for good direction, strength, and protection for the coming year. Several Sundances took place in this area because of the sacred nature of the rivers and the land. The Lakota/Dakota Oyate have seven sacred rites, and the Sundance is one of the most sacred.

In the area is a sacred stone where our ancestors went to pray and ask for guidance. As a Lakota, I am fortunate enough to have traveled there with elders who are no longer with us, to pray and leave offerings, asking for good direction, strength, and protection on behalf of our people. The site of this stone is confidential and protected by this office. This place of prayer is still in use today.

Today, Lake Oahe is where eagles nest. Eagles remain sacred to the Native American people. A Standing Rock spiritual leader, Everett Jamerson, once told me, "The eagle is considered sacred to our people because out of all the winged, they fly the highest. They fly so high they can see the curve of grandmother earth and know what's coming." It's common among the Lakota to make offerings of tobacco when eagles are sighted. An eagle feather is one of the highest honors of an individual's deeds.

People still go to the water to pray and make offerings so that all life sustained by our river may live. All life is considered sacred and is dependent upon the Missouri River. Water defined our ancestral territory. Stone features, burial cairns, and stone effigies can be found near water on hill tops, along ridges, hillsides, and drainages.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' hydroelectric dams in our grandparents' time adversely affected our Traditional Cultural Landscape without even bothering to inform our people. It wasn't until the water came that they realized the river was flooding. Relatives and communities who lived on the river bottomland tell many sad stories about the deep spiritual wound this caused. Those two rivers no longer produce the sacred stones. When people lost the river bottom, they lost traditional foods and medicine, and diabetes, heart disease, and obesity grew among our people.

Without meaningful consultation, archaeologists lack the cultural awareness and sensitivities to identify sites of religious and cultural significance to tribes. Only the tribes themselves have that ability, as acknowledged by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in its Policy Statement Regarding Federal Relationships with Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of November 6, 2014.

September 2, 2016, SRST lawyers filed an emergency injunction in Washington, DC, based upon former THPO Tim Mentz's survey August 28-September 2, documenting over 80 stone features and 27 ancient burials. The 2015 Cultural Resource Survey prepared for the Dakota Access Pipeline by the contractor mentioned no sites along the construction corridor. Archaeologists would have literally walked right over these sites and not seen what was on the ground. On September 3, DAPL knowingly destroyed sites of religious and cultural significance to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, violating the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, North Dakota state law, and the terms of the permit issued by the Public Service Commission.

The SRST/THPO sent a letter to the North Dakota State Historic Preservation Office asking for a Stop Work Order, so our office could evaluate the damage to our sites. I followed up with an in-person meeting, where we discussed our request. The ND Deputy SHPO agreed to conduct an on-site investigation in conjunction with our office. We learned later that ND SHPO and the State Archaeologist conducted an investigation in September 2016 without consulting with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Also in September 2016, the Natural History Museum [an alliance of natural history museums, Ed.] sent a letter signed by over 1,200 archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, and museum personnel[1] to the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Interior, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, condemning the destruction of our sacred sites and burials. Another, from the American Anthropological Association, said, "the US Army Corps of Engineers granted environmental clearances and construction permits without consulting the Standing Rock tribal government in a meaningful way."[2]

Section 101(d)(6)(b) of the NHPA requires that federal agencies carrying out their Section 106 responsibilities consult with any Indian tribe attaching religious and cultural significance to historic properties that may be affected by an undertaking. The confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri Rivers is a Traditional Cultural Landscape containing ancient village sites, burial cairns, stone features, stone effigies, and sacred sites with religious and cultural significance to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Our people still travel to these sacred areas for prayers and ceremonies. The Dakota Access Pipeline will have an adverse effect on this.

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