Why is the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe trying to stop a pipeline?

A native American tribe, which says a four-state pipeline encroaches on their sacred land and water supplies, succeeded Tuesday in getting a federal judge to temporarily stop construction on some of the $3.7 billion project.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File
An Eagle Staff is held up as Native Americans gather during a rally outside U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C, on Aug. 24, 2016, in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers to protect their water and land from the Dakota Access Pipeline. A federal judge in Washington has ruled for a temporary halt against a portion of an oil pipeline under construction near their reservation straddling the North Dakota-South Dakota border.

A federal judge has agreed to temporarily halt construction on a portion of the Dakota Access Pipeline after the native American Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sought a preliminary injunction to halt construction, saying that the pipeline would cut through sacred land, contaminate the tribe’s water source, and violate the National Historic Preservation Act.

US District Judge James Boasberg said Tuesday that work will temporarily stop between North Dakota's State Highway 1806 and 20 miles east of Lake Oahe. However, it will continue to the west of the highway, he said, because the US Army Corps of Engineers does not have jurisdiction over private land. By Friday, Judge Boasberg said, he will rule on the tribe's challenge of federal regulators' decision to grant permits for the pipeline. 

Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice attorney who filed the broader lawsuit on behalf of the tribe, has said that the tribe will "know more by the end of the week about where we're heading," according to the Associated Press.

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe began protesting the pipeline in April and has since been joined by nearly 1,000 indigenous people from various tribes around the country.

If completed, the 1,168 mile Bakken Pipeline will funnel 570,000 barrels of crude oil each day through North Dakota to Iowa, passing only one mile away from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's reservation. However, the tribe says that the government never completed the required consultation with the native tribes of the area before beginning the project.

"It's a system designed to let things slip through the cracks, but it's up to us to hold our government accountable. Our land is in danger, as well as our identity, but we will not stand in silence," Jasilyn Charger of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, who was part of a group that ran a 2,000-mile relay run from North Dakota to Washington, D.C., to protest the pipeline, told Indian Country Today. "We are rising from this dilemma and uniting nations that have been separate for generations. We must take advantage of this chance to make a change."

The temporary, partial hold on construction follows a weekend of clashes between demonstrators and construction workers for Energy Transfer Partners. Four private security guards and two dogs had to receive medical attention, and six protesters – including one child – were bitten while dozens of others were pepper sprayed, according to law enforcement and tribal officials, respectively.

The conflict over the pipeline encapsulates the decades of tension over native Americans' efforts to protect rights to their land and cultures. "The Great Sioux Reservation, formed in the eighteen-sixties, shrunk again and again – in 1980, a federal court said, of the whole sad story, 'a more ripe and rank case of dishonorable dealings will never, in all probability, be found in our history,'" Bill McKibben writes in an essay for The New Yorker. 

"The U.S. government is wiping out our most important cultural and spiritual areas," LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a historic preservation officer for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, wrote this week for Yes! Magazine. "And as it erases our footprint from the world, it erases us as a people. These sites must be protected, or our world will end, it is that simple. Our young people have a right to know who they are. They have a right to language, to culture, to tradition. The way they learn these things is through connection to our lands and our history."

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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