A Dakota Access Pipeline construction site in North Dakota. Photo from Our Shared Responsibility: A Totem Pole Journey

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reports cultural finds near pipeline path

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is stepping up its efforts to stop the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

Papers filed in federal court on Friday disclose several dramatic finds on private land near the path of the controversial pipeline. The sites are so significant that Tim Mentz Sr., the tribe's former longtime historic preservation officer, is calling them once in a lifetime discoveries.

"This is one of the most significant archeological finds in North Dakota in many years," Mentz, who was the first certified tribal historic preservation officer in the nation, said in a sworn declaration, in reference to one remarkable discovery.

That find, according to Mentz, is a large stone feature that depicts the Big Dipper, one of the most important constellations in Lakota cosmology. He said he has only ever seen three in his lifetime but he believes this one to be especially significant because it is attached to a grave site.

"This means that there is a very important leader buried here, what the Elders would say of him as 'he was beyond reproach,'" Mentz stated.

Leaders of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation with their tribal flag at the Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota. Tribal ancestors were signatories to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, as noted in the flag. Photo by Chairman Mark Fox

The Big Dipper site, described as Iyokaptan Tanka, lies only about 75 feet from the edge of the pipeline corridor, according to the declaration. But it's not the only significant discovery that Mentz came upon during surveys of the private property this week.

Another stone feature extends into the pipeline corridor, Mentz told the court. It represents the Strong Heart Society Staff, an area used for prayers and spiritual journeys, and is also attached to a grave.

"Portions of this site are directly in the pipeline corridor and would be destroyed by pipeline construction," Mentz said in the declaration of what he called Chante Tinza Wapaha.

A stone effigy that represents Mato Wapiya, or the Bear Medicine Healer, was found just a few feet from the pipeline corridor, Mentz added. This site is also extremely rare -- only one other site of its kind has been discovered in the Great Plains, he said.

"To find evidence of where the Bear Medicine man’s presence or fasting area connected to a society is very unusual," Mentz told the court, adding: "We only have great stories of these types of men; the deeds they accomplish during times when healing needed to occur."

Harry Beauchamp, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, at the Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota. The Assiniboine were one of the signatories to the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. Photo by Dallas Goldtooth

In total, Mentz and his team documented 82 stone features and archeological sites, including at least 27 burials, on the private property. But they weren't able to survey any sites within the pipeline corridor itself as originally anticipated because he said the landowner "changed his mind" about taking them to those areas.

"Each of these sites carries great historic, religious, and cultural importance to the people of Standing Rock, other tribes of the Oceti Sakowin, and me personally," Mentz said in the declaration. "Unless DAPL is stopped from clearing and grading the corridor, all of these features, and all of the graves and other significant stone features of our spiritual ways, that are in the corridor will be damaged or destroyed. They are irreplaceable to our Lakota/Dakota people."

The 8,000-acre property in question lies along the Cannonball River, adjacent to the northern border of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and north of Cannon Ball, a community on the reservation. The river and the community take their names from the naturally-occurring stone deposits along the river that resemble cannonballs.

The name of the Camp of the Sacred Stones, one of the #NoDAPL resistance camps, recognizes the area's sacred nature. The Lakota name for the camp is Iŋyaŋ Wakȟáŋaǧapi Othí, which roughly translates as "Sacred Rock Camp."

More than 2,000 people, representing hundreds of tribes and non-Native allies, have camped along the Cannonball River, a tributary of the Missouri River, as part of the resistance movement. The area is historic -- a similarly large group camped at the mouth of the river to discuss the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie, Mentz noted in his declaration.

"This is where they took council and was said to have had tens of thousands of Lakota and Dakota relatives," Mentz told the court.

Treaty signatories represented the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes and the #NoDAPL resistance camps today represent the first large multi-tribal gathering at Cannon Ball since 1851.

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