Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sees strong support at pipeline hearing

Dave Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe speaks outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

The leader of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is calling for patience and prayers after a federal judge declined to halt construction on the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline.

Hundreds flocked to the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., to show support for the tribe in its battle against the controversial oil pipeline. Chairman Dave Archambault II was visibly moved by the strong turnout for a rally that took place outside the building while arguments were being heard inside.

"I'm really proud and honored that all of you showed up," Archambault said on the steps of the historic E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. "It means so much. It means that with prayer, we're strong."

But Archambault said the struggle continues in light of what went on during the hour-long proceeding on the sixth floor of the courthouse. After asking numerous questions to attorneys representing the tribe, the Obama administration and the backers of the pipeline, Judge James E. Boasberg said the issues were too complex for a speedy decision.

Indianz.Com on YouTube: Chairman Dave Archambault at Federal Courthouse

Still, Boasberg promised to move quickly. Attorneys for both the tribe and Dakota Access LLC, the partnership behind the pipeline, stressed the importance of securing a decision as soon as possible.

"I'll do my best to have an opinion out within two weeks," Boasberg said at the end of the hearing, the turnout for which was so large that court personnel had to open a second room for the overflow.

Boasberg noted that Dakota Access has yet to secure the federal government's permission for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, whose shoreline forms part of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. Even an attorney for company said he wasn't entirely sure when the permit might be issued.

Without the permit, a crucial portion of the pipeline cannot be built. But Dakota Access is moving forward quickly on the rest of the 1,172-mile project, including a portion that comes within a half-mile of the reservation.

Flanked by leaders of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier addresses the crowd outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Those efforts prompted the tribe to come to court and ask for a preliminary injunction to stop further construction. Since the judge did not issue a ruling, Archambault said the fight isn't over.

"We came to defend our women, our children," Archambault said. "We still have warriors. We still have to be patient."

Citing threats to its water supply and the environment, the tribe established the Camp of the Sacred Stones near Cannonball, North Dakota, in April. Since then, more than 2,000 people have turned out to the site and more than 90 tribes -- including the two largest, the Cherokee Nation and the Navajo Nation -- have sent letters or passed resolutions in support of the cause.

"I've watched it grow," Bobbi Jean Three Legs, a young tribal member who helped organize a 2,000-mile relay run last month from North Dakota to D.C., said during the rally outside the courthouse.

Bobbi Jean Three Legs addresses the rally outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

Since the pipeline comes so close to her reservation, Three Legs said it was extremely critical to stop the project. In the event of a spill -- which she contends is inevitable -- it would only take five minutes for oil to get into the water intake system, she told the crowd.

"Water is life," Three Legs said, repeating a familiar slogan translated from the Lakota phrase "Mni Wiconi."

Further down the Missouri River lies the home of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, whose leaders also came to D.C. for the rally and the hearing. An oil spill would take about three hours to reach the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

"This is not just an Indian issue," Chairman Harold Frazier told the crowd. "Water is life. Our people are just standing up for our future."

Carrying a "People Over Pipelines #NoDAPL" banner, actors Shailene Woodley, third from left, Riley Keough, fifth from left, and Susan Sarandon, sixth from left, brought their star power to the rally outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

The tribe's motion to intervene in the lawsuit has been granted and Frazier has told the court of the importance of the Missouri River to his people. The statement appears to have carried some impact as Boasberg spent a lot of time during the hearing focusing on issues affecting the Lake Oahe portion of the pipeline.

Boasberg also wondered whether the tribes can trust Dakota Access to build the pipeline without disturbing sensitive sites. That issue -- including the use of tribal monitors -- appeared to be one of many he is wrestling with as he determines whether or not to issue an injunction.

"Is the process working?" Boasberg asked after Dakota Access attorney William J. Leone said there have been six instances so far in which work was halted to address potential disruptions to burial grounds and other sites. But in all of those cases, Leone said no "artifacts" were found.

"The tribal monitors are welcome to that site," Leone said later on in the hearing, referring to the crucial portion that is supposed to cross Lake Oahe.

A delegation from the Onondaga Nation of New York sang and hosted a round dance outside of the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., on August 24, 2016. Photo by Indianz.Com

For now, Dakota Access has stopped construction pending the judge's ruling on the preliminary injunction. In a separate action, the company secured a temporary restraining order against Archambault and other Standing Rock leaders that prevents them from interfering with construction work.

A hearing in that proceeding was due to take place on Thursday but it was pushed back to September 8 as a federal judge in North Dakota urged Dakota Access and Standing Rock leaders to work together and resolve that particular dispute.

The 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.

Whitney Two Bulls came to the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., with a new work by her grandfather, famed cartoonist Marty Two Bulls. Photo by Indianz.Com

Up to US, an activist group, was a primary organizer of the courthouse rally, which drew some star power with appearances by actors Riley Keough, Susan Sarandon and Shailene Woodley. Hundreds of tribal citizens and their supporters took part in drumming, dancing and singing for about four hours on Wednesday afternoon.

"We are homeland security and we are here to protect the water," Jessie Jordan, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, said to loud applause.

Whitney Two Bulls, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, came to support her Lakota relatives. Despite the heat, she wore in traditional dress and sported a new work designed by her grandfather, famed cartoonist Marty Two Bulls.

"Hot off the presses," Two Bulls told Indianz.Com of her poster, which read "Lakota No Access. Stop the Black Snake Dakota Access Pipeline."

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