Tribes move quickly to protect sacred lands within pipeline path

The United Tribes Technical College hosted a youth day in Bismarck, North Dakota, on September 9, 2016. Photo by United Tribes News / UTTC

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe are moving quickly to protect sacred lands within the path of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

Even though the Obama administration won't let a crucial portion of the pipeline cross federal land for now, Dakota Access can continue working in areas of North Dakota where cultural sites and burial grounds have been reported. For that reason, the tribes are seeking an injunction that would prevent construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe while an appeal is pursued.

"While an agreement has been reached on a narrow area of construction for the next week, and while the U.S. administration has asked for a voluntary hold to construction activity within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, should construction resume, the last opportunity for the tribes to vindicate their legal rights and safeguard sacred sites in the pipeline’s corridor could be gone," the tribes wrote. "Accordingly, an injunction pending appeal is warranted here."

According to the filing, Dakota Access has agreed not to perform any work between Highway 1806 and 20 miles to the east of Lake Oahe from now until September 16. That's the area covered by a temporary restraining order that was issued by a federal judge after an emergency hearing on Tuesday.

But the restraining order does not cover lands to the west of Highway 1806. That's the area that the tribes are most worried about because of the dangers to sacred sites.

The proposed injunction would remain in place while the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe takes the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A notice of appeal was filed shortly after Judge James E. Boasberg denied the tribe's request to halt the pipeline.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has intervened in the lawsuit but wasn't a part of the litigation that led to the judge's decision on Friday.

As the tribes note, the Obama administration has asked Dakota Access to "voluntarily" stop construction in areas within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers isn't supporting their request for the injunction.

A new filing, however, left the door open for a change in stance.

"The Corps will continue to assess and possibly revise this position in consideration of public safety concerns," attorneys for the Department of Justice wrote on Friday.

Thousands of #NoDAPL resisters remain on the ground i as they continue to press for a complete stop in work on the pipeline. Like the tribes, they were disappointed when the judge didn't fully grant the restraining order earlier this week.

"Even as our site protectors were indiscriminately pepper-sprayed and bitten while non-violently protesting the irrevocable destruction of our burial grounds and sacred sites, they never gave up or lost hope," Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier said on Friday. "We thank them for their commitment to protecting our sacred land and valuable resources.”

Relevant Documents:
Joint Statement from the Department of Justice, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Interior Regarding Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers | Federal Court Decision in #NoDAPL Case

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