Oil Company Destroys Sacred Burial Sites, Attacks Native American Protestors with Dogs and Pepper Spray

On Saturday, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the 1,200 Dakota Access Pipeline, destroyed a scared Native burial site at Standing Rock in North Dakota. As bulldozers razed the area, Native Americans from different tribes protested on the construction site. In response, the company’s security attacked them with dogs and pepper spray. Protests against the $3.8 billion oil pipeline have been happening since April, but in the last few weeks tensions have escalated with lawsuits still hanging in the balance.

On Friday, the Standing Sioux Tribe’s legal team filed important evidence identifying the sacred burial sites and pointing out that they were directly in the pipeline’s route in order to legally stop construction on the site. Although the Tribal Historian Preservation Office has been requesting an archaeological investigation of area in question to determine whether sacred burial sites and other historical sites existed there since 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers successfully stonewalled them until March of 2016, when “archeologists from the corps and the Tribe on March 7, 2016 witnessed places where moles had pushed dirt to the surface containing prehistoric pottery shards, pieces of bone, flint and tools.” As of April of 2016, the USACE was still saying “no historic properties were affected.” Jan Hasselman, the attorney with EarthJustice who’s representing the Standing Sioux Tribe, told Democracy Now! that he believes the oil company intentionally set out to destroy the sacred burial site using the information they filed in court.

We were stunned and shocked to hear that they [the oil company] took that information and, Saturday morning, over a holiday weekend, went out and bulldozed the entire site. We have a sworn declaration from one of the tribe’s cultural experts that describes some of these sites, multiple gravesites and burials, very important archaeological features of the kind that are not found commonly. And we put all that in front of the court. And the next morning, it was gone. The shock and anguish felt by tribal members at this, and this abuse of the legal process, is really hard to describe.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Chairman David Archambault II told Native News Online the damage is irreversible. “This demolition is devastating,” Archambault said. “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.”

In addition to this despicable move, the company then had the audacity to attack Native American protestors protecting their land with dogs and pepper spray. Democracy Now! was on the ground reporting the situation and captured the standoff.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe filed an emergency motion on Sunday to block further constructions of the pipeline. The motion would put a stop to any work done in the area until a judge issues a ruling on a previous motion to stop construction this week.

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Yvonne S. Marquez is a lesbian journalist and former Autostraddle senior editor living in Dallas, TX. She writes about social justice, politics, activism and other things dear to her queer Latina heart. Yvonne was born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter. Read more of her work at yvonnesmarquez.com.

Yvonne has written 205 articles for us.


  1. I wish this was making more news. Indigenous Americans are the most likely ethnic group in both the US and Canada to face police violence and have been for years and years…I mean, this kind of response is what’s been replaying since colonial times (see: Sand Creek, Wounded Knee x2, Alcatraz, etc).

    • This was violence from private corporate security, unless you’re talking about the arrests. This company needs to be charged and destroyed.

      • Security is often off-duty cops and there has definitely been a police presence at these protests. Sooooo…

        • Doesn’t change the fact we need to hold the private company accountable just as much as the failures of the government and in different ways. I think it’s important to avoid language that places this exclusively as the fault of the public sector.

  2. This is horrific and heartbreaking, and every single decision maker in that company should be put in jail.

  3. I’m sick of how some Americans refuse to accept that the USA did and still continues to commit genocide against Native Americans.Than you for this. I have just been irritated this week about how many Americans fight against discussing racism

  4. Thank you for including this kind of content! I’m so glad to see it here on this website that has such great coverage of so many other things I care about.

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