Defending the Sacred – from Standing Rock to Texas

 

The United States Corps of Army Engineers (USACE) has denied the building permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). This breaking news signals a victory for the water protectors movement and the unity and prayer of Indigenous peoples who have taken the lead in protecting water for future generations. What has emerged through this experience has shed light on the injustice embedded within state development policy.

The fight for our water is tied to the fight for protecting all that is sacred. Protecting ancient burials, sacred sites help us protect our water. Standing up to Indian mascots, offensive logos and cultural appropriation helps us to fight against exploitative projects. All of these themes are present right here in Texas. There is still much to be done.

Emergence

Back in April 2016, before DAPL was blowing up the news, Native Texans from across the state united to march in protest of the Dos Republicas coalmine in Eagle Pass under the banner #NativeTexansUnited. Natives stand against the mine because it threatens to pollute the Rio Grande River, which affects thousands of people. But also, Coahuiltecan, Carrizo, Apache and Comanche tribes all consider Eagle Pass a “sacred site” and claimed to have ancestral burial sites in the area. At the time, the corporation running the mine, North American Coal Company (NACC), denied the presence of any burials. It appears that they were lying as uncovered by a 2012 Cultural Resources Report document, which states clearly:

“The floodplain appears to have at least one sealed late pre-historic occupation surface that contains at least one burial. In the event that the area of the site containing the resumed Native American burial is not exempted from the mining impacts, deeper and more extensive trenching should be performed to explore the extent and nature of the occupation and demonstrate that no older occupations lie more deeply buried.”

It is common for archaic burials to be found in large numbers and while we are now in possession of evidence of at least one burial, we are suspicious of the authorities in granting us our rightful information for the remainder of the site. The dishonesty by Dos Republicas, NACC, the Texas state authorities and the USACE have operated in unison to deny the rights of the Native peoples of Texas to free and fair consultation. To our knowledge, there has been no further testing or excavation since the time of this report. However, there has been a commencement of mining in the area.

Desecration of sacred sites is not unique to Eagle Pass, unfortunately as has been uncovered recently with two pipelines currently under construction in West Texas. The Trans Pecos Pipeline (TPPL) and Comanche Trails Pipeline are both owned by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) the company behind DAPL, and they threaten some of the most historic places for Natives in Texas.

According to local news source, The Van Horn Advocate:

The TPPL will cut a 143 mile-swath through the last vestige of wilderness in Texas desecrating as many as one ancient Native American site per square mile of its path. The Trap Springs archeological site, a very recent and significant find is in imminent danger of being bulldozed despite evidence of at least 5,000 years of occupation and a pending nomination as a State Archeological Landmark.

Further west, Comanche Trail Pipeline cuts through Hueco Tanks, possibly the most remarkable archeological site in Texas. Hundreds of pictographs and thousands of artifacts including pottery and burial sites cover the Hueco Tanks state park and surrounding area. This land has been used for ongoing ceremony for a diverse array of indigenous peoples including the Mescalero Apache, Kiowa, Tigua, Comanche and Xicanxs of El Paso. This area has been fortunate enough to not be drilled or fracked by oil and gas expansion – however the Comanche Trails pipeline will bring this destructive development to the area in order to ship gas to Mexico.

Exports are driving the current expansion of oil and gas infrastructure throughout South Texas. Much of this fracking boon connects at three proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals in South Padre Island. While most Texans know South Padre as the last clean beach in Texas, and a tourist destination, most don’t know that it is also home to an ancient burial site. The Garcia Pasture site contains an indigenous cemetery, an ancient village and numerous nomadic artifacts, all threatened along with the beach, the bay and the local economy.

All of this destruction and the gross disrespect paid to the sacred nature of burial grounds, life-giving sources of water or cultural and historic remains may come as a surprise. When we look deeper, we find that there is no mistake being made by the companies and no benefit of the doubt to give them. Their disrespect is calculated, and deep.

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Insult and Injury

The logo of North American Coal Company is an Indian’s Head. Reminiscent of the infamous Washington Football team logo, this logo carries more negative implications than mere cultural appropriation. According to Barbara E. Munson of the Indian Mascot and Logo Taskforce:

“Symbols like the Indian head in profile are called severed head logos. They have been used at various times in the colonial period and in later U.S. history to designate a place where whole bodies, heads and later scalps of Indian people (men, women and children) could be brought in for bounty payment. Blood stained scalps gave rise to the term redskins.” The bounty practice is one reason why many American Indian people are so opposed to the use of these logos. Bounty payments are about death and genocide not about athletic games and academic and music competitions.”

We can add mining company to the list of things that should not be by signified by a severed Indian head; and we can add to this narrative the aspect of grave robbery and bounty payment. Theft of Native land is a trophy for settler colonial society as it symbolizes domination over the land and native peoples. The present case at Dos Republicas brings these themes together, as land, bodies and images are all taken from native peoples in a single act of destruction.

NACC also operates the Navajo mine in Arizona – another example of them contributing to the dispossession of indigenous peoples while appropriating their name and culture. Recently Apache Corporation has acquired vast oil reserves, which threaten sacred Apache sites, including Balmorhea in West Texas. ETP’s Comanche Trail pipeline uses both name and homeland of the Comanche, while the gas they export will benefit no indigenous peoples. ETP also share a corporate headquarters with Chief Oil and Gas, another severed head oil company.

It is no accident that these companies overlay multiple expressions of anti-Indianness. In order for a faceless corporation to profit from destroying land, polluting air and water, desecrating sacred sites, appropriating culture and showing utter lack of dignity or respect, they can only do so by tapping into the lowest part of the United States’ culture. To claim an Indian name, or image is to claim rightful ownership over the land and is an act of colonization – this is beyond racism, it is genocide.

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The System is Colonialism

Neither a sacred site nor a burial ground holds meaning to the state, while those in power get rich off of energy projects.   “Development” is the mechanism of state capitalism; upholding land seizure and industrial exploitation that keeps so much oil and land in the hands of the few. The corruption is deep, but the Texas Water Protectors movement is a response to this – and it’s not going anywhere.

The USACE did an improper consultation with tribes before issuing building permits for DAPL – this may set a precedent for the Dos Republicas coalmine.   It’s likely that the high visibility of DAPL will open debate on how consultations are done. However, focusing on the details of the procedure misses the reality of how state processes generally work and why and how they are so racist. Richard Hutchings — co-director of the Institute for Critical Heritage and Tourism and a Research Associate at Vancouver Island University – said it well:

“That most archaeologists are employed by and answer directly to transnational development corporations is only the tip of the iceberg. More troubling is that while most archaeologists are white (like their employers and their employer’s stockholders), the majority of heritage sites archaeologists permit to be destroyed are Native American, raising the specter of not just environmental racism but a coordinated and systematic human rights violation.”

The consultation process is already overwhelmingly pro-extractive capitalism and consistently and publicly admits to hold an abstract economic benefit over the wellbeing of land and people. Said process is even less likely to recognize or respect Indigenous land, culture or life. The consultation process, or lack there of, is a continuation of a colonial relationship between the settler state and Native peoples. Reassessing this relationship will change more than the USACE and energy pipelines – it will change everything in American society.

The destructive development in Eagle Pass, West Texas and North Dakota demonstrates how colonial society justifies its own expansion by devaluing indigenous land and culture. State parks such as Hueco Tanks and Big Bend are unlikely to remain protected while Kelcy Warren, ETP CEO, sits on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Governor Greg Abbott will continue to support projects while Warren personally gave him nearly $900 thousand in campaign contributions. Warren gave over $100 thousand to Trump, too. What will this mean for the future of DAPL next month and beyond?

The government is not on our side. It took great sacrifice to earn a victory in North Dakota, and even this win is tenuous. It will be up to the people to come together to defend our water for future generations.

We will defend Big Bend

We will defend Hueco tanks

We will defend South Padre Island

We will defend Balmorhea

We will defend Eagle Pass

We are the Texas Water Protectors

We will defend the sacred

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For more information:

TPPL: http://www.defendbigbend.org

Comanche Trails: https://www.facebook.com/EarthGuardiansElPasoTX/?fref=nf

LNG in RGV: http://rgvstoplng.wixsite.com/rgvstoplng

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Defending the Sacred – from Standing Rock to Texas

  1. Laura Riddell

    This fight is not over. The Army Corp of Engineers told them to stop months ago and they ripped up burial grounds anyway. DAPL is expected to continue despite the lack of easement. They will pay fines after they are through destroying the land and river. No big deal to them. Standing Rock is not standing down. The only reason this came today is because over 5,000 veterans are due to show up by tomorrow. This fight is not over and even if it was in North Dakota, there is a whole nation out there that is dealing with pipeline ruptures. We’ll take this win but this is not over.

  2. Such a lot of good information and perspective here. Thank you!

  3. Denise Ramirez

    Thank you for your support!
    Save our beautiful SPI.
    Save our wetlands.
    Save our Bahia Grande.
    Save our ocelots.
    Save RGV from LNG!

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