Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Takes Religious Freedom Claims to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier in Washington after White House Tribal Nations Conference. Native News Online photo by Levi Rickert

Published March 16, 2017

WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, March 15, 2017, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed an emergency motion for injunction pending appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to stop the flow of oil in the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe while the appeals court considers the Tribe’s challenge pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”).  The case in the D.C. Circuit is an appeal from the district court’s March 7, 2017 Order denying the Tribe’s motion for preliminary injunction under RFRA.

The Lakota people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe believe that the presence of this crude oil pipeline—the Black Snake—under the sacred waters of Lake Oahe will render the waters ritually impure for use in essential Lakota religious sacraments.  Dakota Access, LLC has stated in court filings that oil could flow as soon as Monday, March 20, 2017.  The Tribe’s motion asks the Circuit Court to issue a ruling before Monday.  A briefing schedule on the merits of the appeal has not yet been set.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier explained the Tribe’s decision to fight the lower court’s decision on appeal: “The United States has been trying to destroy our way of life for hundreds of years.  The fact that the Lakota people are here today is because our ancestors never gave up.  They always fought for us and for our future.  We owe it to them and to our grandchildren to stand up and fight now.  Like the ones who came before us, we will never give up.

The Tribe’s religious freedom appeal, however, is just a piece of a much broader ongoing legal fight the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has brought along with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other members of the Great Sioux Nation.  In a separate set of motions, the Tribes have challenged the pipeline because it threatens the Tribes’ drinking water and the environment in violation of the United States treaty and trust responsibility to the Tribes and in violation of numerous federal statutes.  The district court will be considering those issues in the near future.

“The fight against the DAPL is far from over. The court still has to consider our treaty and trust arguments, which we think are very strong. And we are ready to fight whatever other threats to our rights and resources may come our way, whether it’s the Keystone XL Pipeline, nuclear waste, or something else. We’re sick and tired of the government helping private parties get rich at the expense of tribal resources. If the government won’t live up to its trust responsibility to us, then we will see them in court,” Chairman Frazier further explained.

 

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