Finding Religion in the Anti-pipeline Movement

In a last-ditch effort to stop the completion of the Dakota Access pipeline, the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes threw a “Hail Mary” pass in U.S. District Court last week arguing that the pipeline should be stopped on “religious freedom” grounds.



The Associated Press reported that the tribes requested a temporary injunction to halt construction of the pipeline under Lake Oahe, a Missouri River reservoir, which represents “the last big section” of the $3.8 billion pipeline. According to a lawyer for the Sioux tribes, “the mere presence of the oil in the pipeline [under Lake Oahe] renders the water spiritually impure."

Attorneys for Energy Transfer, the company building the pipeline, countered that this new religious freedom argument was “exceedingly tardy.” And they’re correct, because if the tribes were truly concerned about pipelines under Lake Oahe rendering the water “spiritually impure,” they would have raised the religious freedom issue back in 1982 when the Northern Border pipeline was safely ensconced under the lake.

And if the Sioux tribes weren’t at all concerned about the Northern Border pipeline for the past 35 years, their religious fervor over the Dakota Access pipeline—which will run parallel to the Northern Border pipeline under Lake Oahe—seems a bit contrived.

It’s not as if they didn’t have ample opportunity to voice concerns about the Northern Border pipeline … or the Dakota Access pipeline. In 1996—years after the pipeline had been safely pumping natural gas under Lake Oahe—the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) “contacted Native American Tribes to elicit any interests or concerns regarding the construction of the proposed [expansion of the pipeline] especially as it affects any sites of historic, cultural, or religious significance.” (Emphasis added.) According to FERC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did not express “any concerns about the project.”

Similarly, authorities repeatedly reached out to the Standing Rock Sioux over the Dakota Access pipeline to no avail long before they apparently developed this religious sensitivity to pipelines. An executive vice president of Energy Transfer Partners testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this week that the company and the Army Corp of Engineers made “numerous attempts to consult the [Standing Rock] tribe” but, “unlike the 54 other tribes consulted about the project, the Standing Rock Sioux were unwilling to meet.”

But at least one of the original leaders of the Standing Rock protest has finally seen the light. David Archambault, Chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the original leader of the DAPL protests recently said, “This pipeline is not going to kill our nation. This pipeline is not going to destroy America. This one pipeline that everybody’s talking about … this one pipeline where people refuse to leave … this is not going to be detrimental to our nation.”

One final note: As lawyers for the Sioux tribes argued in court that “the mere presence of the oil in the pipeline [under Lake Oahe] renders the water spiritually impure," North Dakota officials were “racing against time” to remove hundreds of abandoned cars at the Standing Rock protest site before seasonal flooding swept them into the Missouri River and Lake Oahe.

As one official said, “We can’t leave them there. We don’t know what kind of biohazard is going to be produced with all the fluids or any other garbage that’s inside the vehicle.”

Let’s pray they clean the site up in time.