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Tribes pass resolution opposing Killdeer Mouintain Battlefield line

KILLDEER -- North Dakota's Native Americans officially oppose further development on the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield Historic Site, the United Tribes of North Dakota said in a resolution.

Basin Electric Power Cooperative has proposed a power line that would run through the battlefield area. That project is in the public comment stage, and the United Tribes' resolution alerts the Public Service Commission of tribes' opposition.

United Tribes represents the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, the Spirit Lake Tribe, the Standing Rock Tribe, Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Nation and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa.

The tribes oppose the proposed power line and any facilities that could disturb the remains of those killed at the site, according to a release on the resolution.

In July 1864, Brig. Gen. Alfred Sully led soldiers in a battle against Native Americans on the site. With more than 2,000 fighters on either side, the battle is the largest military engagement to take place on the Great Plains, said Tom Isern, a historian at North Dakota State University.

"That was the last resting place for those people," said Diane Desrosiers, tribal historic preservation officer for the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe.

"It doesn't seem right that we should disturb them."

The site was important to Native Americans before the battle, too, as a gathering place.

At a public hearing for the project last week, the Public Service Commission heard concerns from landowners and historians about the line. Basin has committed to moving a substation that would've been on the battlefield site, but the line still bisects the battlefield area.

Several tribes have already passed their own resolutions in opposition of the power line, Desrosiers said.

The five tribes make up more than 31,000 Native Americans in the state and represent 5 percent of the population, according to the state Indian Affairs Commission.

Tamara St. John, of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Historic Preservation Office, said it's important to preserve such sites because the world needs reminders that Native Americans were here.

"The world believes that history began when Columbus arrived and that's what our children are taught in the schools," St. John said.

Sites like the Killdeer battlefield are "evidence that we were here. We've always been here."