Tribal Cultural Surveys in Progress on Proposed Pipeline Corridor


The Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), a division of the Department of Natural Resources, has trained 30 members of several bands and tribes to conduct “tribal cultural surveys” along the proposed Line 3 pipeline corridors.

The surveys will be conducted over the course of the next year to determine the extent of cultural resources that exist along the route. The training came about after the Army Corps of Engineers con-
tacted the tribes in 2015 to consult with them about the proposed Sandpiper pipeline. That led to meetings with tribes and a plan to conduct a tribal cultural survey of the corridor.

In September, trainees canoed and hiked around Mille Lacs Kathio State Park to learn to identify cultural resources. Assistant Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Terry Kemper and archaeologist Jim Cummings facilitated the training.

The Army Corps has jurisdiction where the proposed pipeline would cross waterways — and there are hundreds of waterway crossings on Enbridge’s preferred route through northern Minnesota. The Corps has wide latitude in its sur- veys, which can range up to a quarter mile from a waterway, or even further.
Enbridge conducted an archaeological survey along the proposed corridor, but according to Terry Kemper, the Bands were not represented in the process.

“They found no sites, which is the outcome they wanted,” said Terry.

Now the Army Corps is requiring that Enbridge pay for the tribal cultural surveys, and the Band has trained the surveyors on how to identify locations of cultural importance — ranging from burial sites to medicinal plants to animal dens.

Surveyors are also encouraged to record their feelings — the sense that an area is speaking to them, or has something to offer them.

The project is the first of its kind and may lead to a new model for tribes to follow in protecting their lands from pipelines and other disturbance.

“Our voices, our spirituality, our connection to these things doesn’t fit into their rules and guidelines,” Terry said. “We’re attempting to put those things into our surveys under the assumption that they’ll be thrown out, but we’re seeing a little bit more acceptance. There’s the possibility of changing the rules and having our voices heard.”

The field of archaeology has traditionally not been friendly to Indians, Terry said, but the tribal cultural surveys may give tribes new power to protect historic, cultural and natural resources.

Language is important as well, Terry points out. “They refer to them as ‘mounds,’ but they’re graves,” Terry said. “If they refer to them as mounds, they’ll always be an archaeological ‘find.’ When
they become graves, people realize that you have houses and roads sitting on our graveyards. It’s been detrimental to us that they con- tinue to call them ‘mounds.’ That is not what they truly are to us.”

When sacred sites are identified along the proposed corridor, El- ders will be brought in for consultation to determine if the site or its resources are still used today — if a “cultural corridor” exists in the path of the pipeline.

If the tribal cultural survey uncovers sites missed by Enbridge’s archaeological survey, that survey will be discredited, and tribes will seek to conduct a cultural survey of the entire corridor, potentially delaying construction for months or years.