A recent inspection by North Dakota Chief Archaeologist Paul Picha turned up no artifacts or burial remains in a disputed part of the four-state Dakota Access oil pipeline route near a Native American reservation in the south-central part of the state.
Picha said in a memo dated Sept. 22 the results of a cultural resource survey the state completed on a 1.36-mile portion of the pipeline route in Morton County. The work was requested by a joint law enforcement task force formed to investigate the $3.8 billion Dakota Access project, which has come under fire from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and various environmental organizations.
"No cultural material was observed in the inspected corridor," Picha said. "No human bone or other evidence of burial was recorded in the inventoried corridor."
Noting that locations adjacent to but outside the construction corridor that Sioux archaeologist Tim Mentz had surveyed were inspected and photographed by the state team, Picha said there were no indications of any violations of state laws pertaining to moving human remains or culturally significant sites.
Pipeline backers pointed out that the pipeline route earlier had been reviewed for archaeological/cultural impacts prior to gaining approvals. A federal judge turned down two injunction requests from the Standing Rock Sioux, noting that the tribe had "largely refused" to engage in consultations during the permitting process.
Nevertheless, the Sioux tribe and its supporters continue to allege that pipeline construction crews have destroyed cultural resources and burial sites.
While a well-known North Dakota political commentator, Rob Port, obtained a copy of the Picha memo and published it on his blog, officials with the state Historical Society and Morton County Sheriff's Department have declined to release the memo, noting it is part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation.
In the meantime, a joint federal agencies process is now under way to examine the issue of consultations with Native American tribes regarding infrastructure projects, and there are still pending federal court cases brought by the Standing Rock Sioux.