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Thousands of Museum Professionals and Scientists Sign Petition Against Construction of Oil Pipeline in North Dakota

More than 1,200 museum directors, curators, archaeologists, anthropologists, academics, and experts have signed a petition to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from encroaching on Native American ancestral grounds in North Dakota.

In a letter addressed to the Obama administration that was released today, the petitioners state: “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 Obama Administration has temporarily halted the construction on the pipeline. In a statement made on September 9, the Department of Justice declared that the US Army Corps of Engineers will not authorize construction on the pipeline along the land bordering or under Lake Oahe until it can reassess whether the project is legal under the National Environmental Policy Act. The department also highlighted the need for sweeping reforms regarding the way in which infrastructure projects that affect Native American tribal views and lands are carried out.

Suzan Shown Harjo, who is Cheyenne and Muscogee, president of the Morning Star Institute, and a recipient of a 2014 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, said that the pipeline “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.” She added, “Native people and supporters urge official actions to stop this shameful, illegal project permanently.”

While the majority of the signatures are from scientists from the US and abroad, fifty of the signees are executive directors of museums and institutions, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Museum, the Field Museum, the Queens Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution.

“The signers of this letter are far from your typical activists,” Beka Economopoulos, director of Brooklyn’s Natural History Museum, the institution that initiated the letter, said, “It speaks to the critical nature of this issue that museum directors and scientists, who don’t often engage in political struggle, have made the decision to raise their voices about the Dakota Access pipeline. The significance of the cultural artifacts along the pipeline’s proposed route is simply too great to sacrifice for a fossil fuel pipeline that would threaten not only these artifacts, but also land, water, tribal sovereignty, and the climate.”

The American Anthropological Association and the Society for American Archaeology have also published statements denouncing the Dakota Access pipeline.