WASHINGTON (CN) – After a federal judge refused to block construction of the Dakota Access pipeline Monday, a chairman for the Cheyenne River Sioux warned outside the courthouse that the threat of the $3.8 billion project is foretold in tribal prophecy.
"They say that someday a big black snake will come and destroy our way of life," said Cheyenne Sioux tribal chairman Harold Frazier this afternoon outside the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse. "And we view this as that pipeline, ’cause it could.”
Frazier said that nearly all the Sioux depend on the Missouri River for water.
"With the chemicals that are in with that crude oil – that benzene that causes cancer – any kind of break would be harmful to our people, cause death to our people.”
Lake Oahe is the primary source of drinking water for the Cheyenne River Sioux as well as the Standing Rock reservation. At today’s hearing in Washington, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg made the Sioux’s attorney concede the point that the pipeline will not do any harm until oil actually flows through it.
The attorney Nicole Ducheneaux emphasized after several minutes of arguing, however, that there is no dispute that the oil will flow.
"It's not even a threat,” she said. “It's going to happen.”
David Debold, an attorney for those building the pipe at Dakota Access, could not tell the court an exact day the oil would start flowing. He said it could be within 30 days, perhaps even sooner than that.
The Sioux had maneuvered for a temporary restraining order last week after the Army Corps of Engineers issued a final easement permit on Feb. 8 that would let Energy Transfer Partners cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe in North Dakota to finish the pipeline.
After Monday’s hearing, Lakota woman Joann Spotted Bear confronted tribal chairman Frazier outside the courtroom about why the tribes are litigating before the District Court rather than going straight to the Supreme Court.
Spotted Bear shouted interruptions outside the courthouse as Frazier spoke to press.
"The United States doesn’t have a treaty,” she said. “One judge shouldn't be making the decision for our people.”
Expanding on her point in an interview, Spotted Bear said she is “infuriated.”
Holding a clear plastic bag, she pointed to what she says are two separate U.S. Constitutions. One is the original, the other is corporate, she said.
"This judge has no jurisdiction making a decision on treaties, and he knows it," she added.
C.J. Clifford of the Oglala Sioux Tribe echoed this point in remarks to reporters, quoting Boasberg as having said publicly he is uneducated about Indian law.
Boasberg should recuse himself and hand the case over to someone who understands Native Americas and their history, Clifford said.
"He doesn’t even know our boundaries," he added.
Once completed, the 1,172-mile pipeline will carry more than half a billion gallons of crude oil daily across four states, from North Dakota to Illinois. Construction of pipeline has been stalled for months because of opposition by several Sioux tribes and a massive protest movement that sprung up around it.
Under direction by the Obama administration last year, the Army Corps of Engineers had said that it would conduct a thorough environmental assessment and explore alternative pipeline routes.
It was a directive by President Donald Trump that caused the Army to reverse course on that promise last week and grant the final easement permit to complete the pipeline.
The Oglala Sioux filed a lawsuit on Saturday to make the Army deliver on that environmental impact statement before construction resumes. The Ogala want a full analysis of the pipeline's impacts on tribal treaty rights as required by federal law.
Susana Sandoval, a protester at Monday's hearing, said in an interview that the environmental-protection implications of the case show that the pipeline is not just an indigenous issue. Originally from Chicago, Sandoval is one of the self-described water protectors who joined the camp of protesters at Standing Rock. Saying she spent 2 1/2 months there, Sandoval counted about 1,000 people still at the camp when she left about a week ago.
"It's not really a resistance against No. 45 as much as it is of the overall issue of understanding what our natural resources are and understanding what the natural law is," she said, referring to President Trump.
Sandoval said Boasberg seemed to handle Monday’s hearing fairly but that she hopes he will spend some time to learn about the religious prophecy of the black snake and what it will mean for the tribe to lose its only source of ritually pure water.
"It is unfortunate where we've seen that corporate interests have taken over a majority of our concern, and that we're advocating for the rights of the corporation versus the rights of the individual," she said.
"The indigenous peoples are standing up because we believe that we have a right and a responsibility to protect Mother Earth," she added.
Although Boasberg denied the temporary restraining order, he must still rule on the tribe's request for a preliminary injunction. He scheduled another hearing for Feb. 27.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe attorney Jan Hassleman said in court the tribe would file a motion for summary judgment by Tuesday.