Cultural Heritage and Economic Interests

This post originally appeared on the Cultural Security Blog.

Protest of the Dakota Access oil pipeline is the latest in nation-wide movements against the development of infrastructure for the transport of oil and gas. Many of the social and legal initiatives to counter various pipeline projects in Iowa, South Carolina, and states in between are in the interest of preserving farming and preventing contamination of drinking water. The protests in North Dakota add a dimension of cultural heritage to tblog_image-20161001he controversy.

Early in September, Mother Jones reported on a chronology of interaction between native tribes and the US Army Corps of Engineers. The article, “A History of Native Americans Protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, describes the reactions and efforts of several tribes in Iowa and North Dakota to protect drinking water and preserve sacred lands in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act. The chronology indicates that despite diligence on the part of tribal leaders to request archaeological surveys of the affected regions, bulldozers plowed “a two-mile-long, 150-foot-wide path” that may have compromised a Standing Rock Sioux burial ground.

The Washington Post and The Huffington Post have reported on protests by the Sioux tribe as galvanizing Native American Tribes across the nation in support of the cause. In The Washington Post, “Showdown over oil pipeline becomes a national movement for Native Americans” described the support in the form of Native Americans traveling to North Dakota. Additionally, the protests elicited support internationally from the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and from celebrities. In The Huffington Post, “The Dakota Access Pipeline Is An Example Of A Much Bigger Problem” provided historical context for the protests with reference to the Keystone XL oil pipeline project that was rejected last year on advisement from President Obama. The article emphasized the significance of the protests beyond environmental concerns by closing with a poignant quote from the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council.

“How do you eliminate a race?” he asked, letting the question hang in the air. “That’s what the government has been trying to do for 200 years. But we’re still here. We have maintained our culture. We’ve maintained our way of life. We’ve maintained our dignity. We’re still here.”

Conflict between economic interests in cultural heritage is not new. The development of a copper mine on an archaeological site in Afghanistan and building of a hydroelectric dam that threatened an ancient city in Turkey are but two examples. In 2015, National Geographic reported on the initiative to preserve the Buddhist complex at Mes Anynak in Logar Province, and in 2009, Smithsonian Magazine reported on the potential cultural loss of the ancient city of Hasankeyf due to the Ilisu Dam on the Tigris River. The United States is now also home to such controversy.

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