Ancient bison kill site coal, Mining company that caused damage


Ancient bison kill site coal, Mining company that caused damage.

A coal company contractor working under federal oversight used a backhoe to dig up one of the largest known Native American bison killing grounds and make way for mining, according to The Associated Press.

Investigators concluded the damage on the Crow Indian Reservation broke federal law and would cost $10 million to repair.

But eight years later, Colorado-based Westmoreland Energy has not made the repairs and is still mining coal in the area, under an agreement with former Crow leaders that some tribal members said has caused more damage to a site considered hallowed ground.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs issued a civil violation notice in the case last year, according to agency spokeswoman Genevieve Giaccardo. A Westmoreland executive said no penalty was involved. No charges were filed by federal prosecutors who investigated potential criminal violations.

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Burton Pretty On Top, a 73-year-old tribal adviser and spiritual leader, and other Crow members said they were frustrated no one from the company or government had been held accountable for ‘desecrating’ the 2,000-year-old southeastern Montana site. It held countless bison bones and more than 3,300 stone tools and projectile points in an area known as Sarpy Creek.

‘It was a shrine or temple to us,’ Pretty On Top said. ‘We wanted to preserve the whole area… No amount of money in the world is enough to replace what has been lost here. The spirituality of our people has been broken.’

The mining company plans to repair the damage but has not reached agreement with the tribe and government on how that should be done, said Westmoreland Chief Operating Officer Joe Micheletti.

The large number of artifacts found suggest various tribes killed bison there for centuries before the Crow arrived – butchering animals for meat and turning the hides into clothing, according to experts who examined the site. The number of bison bones found makes it the largest kill site of its time ever discovered, said Larry Todd, an archaeologist from Colorado State University who participated in the investigation.

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‘The magnitude of the destruction done there, from the perspective of the archaeology of the northwest Plains, is probably unprecedented,’ Todd said.

Since the investigation, Westmoreland has mined around the killing ground while avoiding the massive ‘bonebed’ of more than 2,000 bison.

Tribal officials and archaeologists said the company compounded the original damage by destroying nearby artifacts including teepee rings and the remnants of a sweat lodge. Pretty On Top said some of the bones excavated in 2011 were piled in a heap, with grass growing over it, it when he recently visited.

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The excavation was part of a cultural resources survey required under federal law before the mine could expand onto the reservation. The use of a backhoe instead of hand shovels saved the company money but largely destroyed the site, documents and interviews show.

A Crow cultural official later convicted in a corruption case oversaw the work. At least two Interior Department officials, took part in the decision to use the backhoe, according to the documents obtained by AP and interviews with investigators.

The agency, which must protect the tribe’s interests under federal law, declined to answer questions about its involvement. Giaccardo said the matter was under litigation but would not provide details. Micheletti and tribal officials said they were unaware of any litigation.

Neither the company nor government would release the violation notice or the company’s repair plan.


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