A 5.8-magnitude earthquake that occurred in Oklahoma last September damaged dozens of historic tribal buildings, some of them nearly a century old, which now have extensive cracks and holes throughout their walls.
"The cracks run through the entire width of the walls," said Andrew Knife Chief, the Pawnee Nation's executive director. "We had mortar pop. We had roofs sag. We have ceilings that are bowing."
The tribe believes the quakes were induced by human activity and wouldn't have happened if not for the underground disposal of wastewater by oil companies. The lawsuit accuses 27 companies of carrying out oil drilling that eventually led to unnatural seismic activity.
The lawsuit was filed in the tribe's own court system. Once a tribal court judgment is finalized, it can be taken to a state district court for enforcement.
"We are a sovereign nation and we have the rule of law here," said Knife Chief. "We're using our tribal laws, our tribal processes, to hold these guys accountable."
The US Geological Survey released a forecast Wednesday saying that this year, parts of Oklahoma can be expected to endure damaging earthquakes due to oil and gas extraction operations.
The 3,200-member tribe is seeking compensation for physical damages to public and personal property, market value losses and punitive damages. They believe the damage cost them around $250,000.