Tribes prepare for critical hearing in Dakota Access Pipeline lawsuit

Upwards of 2,000 tribal members and supporters have flocked to the Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo by Johnny Dangers

A federal judge on Friday granted permission for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to join a lawsuit that challenges the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

The South Dakota tribe won't be able to participate in a highly-anticipated hearing this week that could lead to a shutdown of work on the controversial project. But Chairman Harold Frazier said his people will be represented as the case moves forward.

"Importantly, the court decision means that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will be permitted to participate as a full party in the larger fight in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia," Frazier said in a statement on Monday.

Judge James E. Boasberg will be hearing arguments in the federal court in Washington, D.C., this Wednesday. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, whose reservation sits near the path of the proposed pipeline, filed a motion for preliminary injunction to force the U.S. Army of Corps of Engineers to withdraw its approval for the project.

"The tribe will be irreparably harmed in the absence of an injunction. The pipeline crosses the tribe’s ancestral lands, and traverses landscapes that are sacred to the tribe and carry great historical significance," the motion states. "There are sacred stones and historically important sites in the path of the pipeline, few of which have been fully evaluated by tribal archaeologists. Loss of such sites constitutes irreparable injury to the tribe and its members."

The hearing takes place at 2pm in Courtroom 19, on the 6th floor, of the courthouse. In addition to the Army Corps, Dakota Access, the backers of the pipeline, will be participating.

In his statement, Frazier said the Cheyenne River Sioux "tribal leadership and the tribal legal team will be present on August 24, 2016 to stand in solidarity with SRST at the hearing and to observe this proceeding that will affect the tribe and its people."

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is maintaining the Camp of the Sacred Stones in North Dakota as part of its protest against the project. Upwards of 2,000 tribal activists and other supporters have flocked to the site in the past couple of weeks as awareness about the cause has grown throughout Indian Country.

The National Congress of American Indians, the Cherokee Nation Council, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska are among a slew of tribes and tribal organizations supporting the anti-pipeline campaign.

"They have not respected the Standing Rock Sioux as a federally-recognized tribe, with all the rights the treaties they have signed affords them as a sovereign nation,” Joe Byrd, the Speaker of the Cherokee Nation's legislative body, said on Friday. “The pipeline could present both environmental hazards to native people, as well as possibly having a harmful impact on ancestral lands.”

"We join sovereigns across this nation to oppose this pipeline and we will encourage the peaceful battle on land, in Congress and the White House, to stop this pipeline," said Oneida Nation Vice Chairwoman Melinda J. Danforth in a press release.

"As we embark on our own battles over transboundary mining issues, we need to support our brothers and sisters across Indian Country so that we might be able to call on them to do the same for us in the spirit of the Idle No More movement,” Central Council President Richard Peterson said in a press release.

Dakota Access has temporarily stopped construction pending the outcome of the court proceeding. In a separate action, the company secured a temporary restraining order against Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault II and others that prevents them from interfering with work there.

Archambault and other tribal leaders and activists were arrested on August 12 for allegedly interfering with construction of the pipeline.

The Dakota Access Pipeline would start in the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota before crossing into South Dakota. From there the route goes through Iowa -- where the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the Meskwaki Tribe have raised objections.

The pipeline path ends in Illinois and backers say it would carry about 470,000 barrels a day. It has the capacity to carry up to 570,000 barrels a day or even more, according to Dakota Access.

The pipeline does not directly cross any reservations but it goes through territories ceded by tribes through treaties. It also goes through historic tribal sites, including a burial ground in the northwest part of Iowa.

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