It was a warm, calm evening in northeast Texas, perfect for a celebratory feast of venison, corn, beans and an array of berries and nuts. Fire embers faded and people made their way to bed in their nearby mud and straw huts while dogs chewed contentedly on discarded bones.
The scene was a Caddo Indian hamlet, nestled beside the woods on the wide basin of what would later become known as Big Cypress Creek. The year was approximately 1,500 A.D.
Fast-forward more than five centuries to the spring of 2013, and construction was halted on a small section of TransCanada’s Gulf Coast Pipeline as a team of archaeological contractors painstakingly sifted through the soil looking for signs of this culture. Pottery fragments, projectile points, polished stone tools and traces of corn and nuts provided compelling evidence that the site was once inhabited. The remains were then analyzed, catalogued and carefully stored for future reference, adding to the unfolding tapestry of knowledge that documents the daily lives of the ancestors of today’s Caddo Nation, headquartered in Oklahoma.
The Big Cypress Creek site was an unexpected discovery along the Gulf Coast Pipeline right of way. When pipeline construction crews reached the area, artifacts found under the topsoil triggered the company’s Unanticipated Discovery Plan. The resulting work to salvage the area’s archaeological resources before proceeding with construction is a superb example of the value TransCanada places in cultivating respectful, collaborative relationships with Native Americans, Aboriginals, First Nations, landowners and regulatory agencies.
“The fact that TransCanada recognizes U.S. tribal land jurisdictions and traditional territories – which many companies don’t – helps us develop solid, long-term relationships and a spirit of cooperation.”
— Lou Thompson, TransCanada’s manager of U.S. tribal relations
“It says to the tribes that we are 100 percent committed to the protection of the cultural resources on our projects. Well before construction begins, we have processes to reduce the potential for unanticipated discoveries, but the term ‘unanticipated’ says it all,” said Thompson.
On the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project, TransCanada worked with the Caddo Nation Cultural Preservation Office to help identify sites that could be eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places and to provide ongoing consulting services on cultural resources matters in the region.
“TransCanada came to us early in the planning process of the project to determine our unique interests in the area and ultimately used our special expertise to help them better understand the Caddo Nation’s significant concerns with the project.”
— Robert Cast, the Caddo Nation’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer
Initial research confirmed evidence of a village from the Late Caddo Titus Phase (1430-1680 A.D.) on the original route of the pipeline and the site was recommended for listing on the national register. It turns out the site, labelled 41FK148, was much larger than originally thought and extended into the revised pipeline corridor.
TransCanada tribal relations officer Bobby Gonzalez, who is a member of the Caddo Nation and an expert on Native American grave sites, confirmed that no burial sites were being disturbed and worked with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Fort Worth District Army Corps of Engineers, the Texas Historical Commission and the site’s landowner to develop a plan to record and remove all of the archaeological evidence.
“Fortunately, we had already been working with the Caddo Nation for three or four years before construction, so the tribe was involved in developing the mitigation strategies,” Gonzalez explains. “These are sensitive issues and the fact that we have all the stakeholders agreeing to our approach really says a lot about how we manage our projects.”
TransCanada’s experience with the Caddo Nation is providing valuable lessons that will improve the long-term relationships the company develops with aboriginal people across North America throughout the life of our facilities. TransCanada will continue supporting efforts to preserve Caddo culture and other Native traditions.
This year, TransCanada was also the lead sponsor of Our Native Traditions, a 32-page booklet published by The Shawnee News-Star for use in schools. The booklet highlights the histories and stories of the Tribal Nations of Caddo, Cheyenne & Arapaho, Choctaw, Ioway, Kialegee, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Sac & Fox and Seminole.
“This kind of collaboration shows how TransCanada is leading the way for future generations to continue seeking out common ground and engaging in true partnerships with Indian tribes,” Gonzalez says.
For more information about TransCanada’s Community, Aboriginal and Native American Relations program, visit TransCanada.com.