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New Dakota Access Permit Sends Sioux Tribe to Court

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe wasted little time heading to court after the Army gave the final go-ahead for Dakota Access to complete its oil pipeline.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe wasted little time heading to court after the Army gave the final go-ahead for Dakota Access to complete its oil pipeline.

Asking a federal judge in Washington for a temporary restraining order Thursday, the Cheyenne say the government has left them with a Hobson's choice: violate their religious beliefs by using desecrated waters for religious rituals, or abandon their religious sacraments.

The maneuver is the latest legal challenge in the ongoing standoff between several Sioux tribes, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Dakota Access LLP over construction of the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile pipeline that will carry more than half a billion gallons of crude oil daily across four states, from North Dakota to Illinois.

Heeding instructions by President Donald Trump to let the project to move forward, the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday issued the final easement permit needed for the pipeline's developer, Energy Transfer Partners, to cross the Missouri River under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.

Construction of the pipeline has been stalled for months because of tribal opposition and a massive protest movement that sprung up around it.

The tribe has asked the court to stop construction and drilling underneath and around Lake Oahe, a primary source of drinking water for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux reservations.

Thursday’s motion is heavily tied to tribal religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"As Lake Oahe is the only natural, unadulterated, and ritually pure water available to the Tribe — a trust resource for which the United States owes the Tribe a fiduciary duty— desecration of these waters represents a substantial burden on the Tribe’s religious exercise," the motion states.

The motion also cites o U.S. obligations to federally recognized tribes.

"Beginning at least with the unlawful taking of the Black Hills in 1877, the United States systematically has been depriving the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of access to the critical resource that the Tribe requires for its religious practice by confining the Tribe onto ever-smaller tracts of land," the motion says.

"Where once the Lakota had reserved under federal law millions of acres and all of the bodies of water contained in them, today the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and its members have just one pure, natural, un-desecrated source of water within their Tribal territory: Lake Oahe."

The Cheyenne River Sioux joined an action filed in July by the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which sought to block the project over concerns about water contamination and destruction of cultural sites. The tribes wanted the court to preserve the status quo pending determination of their claims on the merits.

In denying their initial request to halt the pipeline, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg said in September that the Army Corps of Engineers had tried dozens of times to consult with the tribes. The tribes maintain that the Army had failed to genuinely engage them.

Despite the initial legal setback, the tribes got a boost in December when the Obama administration decided not to grant the final easement permit needed to drill underneath Lake Oahe.

Under the previous administration's direction, the Army Corps of Engineers said it would conduct a thorough environmental assessment and explore alternative pipeline routes.

In a separate court filing, the tribe also asked the court Thursday for a preliminary injunction that would direct the Army to withdraw the easement permit, which it claims is unlawful under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Boasberg will hear oral arguments on the temporary restraining order on Monday during an already scheduled status hearing in the case.

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