From The Dakotas to The Desert: Energy Companies Threaten Native Culture
Commentary: An energy company plans a project that would destroy land Native people hold as sacred. Despite Native protests, neither state nor federal agencies intervene to protect those cultural sites. The project proceeds. The land is forever altered. Hundreds of Native people and their supporters converge on the site to protest and to grieve their loss.
Given recent news, not to mention the choice of photo at the top of this story, you could be forgiven for assuming I’m describing current events at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. That’s where the company Energy Transfer Partners is trying to push the new Dakota Access Pipeline through burial grounds and medicine wheels sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The project has already destroyed important sacred sites, and threatens to pollute the Missouri River and local groundwater if it’s built and the inevitable spills ensue.
But I’m actually describing a gathering four years ago in the southernmost parts of the California desert. There, near the little desert town of Ocotillo, hundreds of Native people from across the southwestern United States gathered on June 24, 2014. They were there to mark the destruction of ancient cremation sites, ceremonial locations and other important cultural resources by Pattern Energy, which built the Ocotillo Express wind power facility in Imperial County.