Cheyenne River tribe asserting sovereignty on pipeline traffic

Cheyenne River tribe asserting sovereignty on pipeline traffic.
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CHERRY CREEK, S.D. (KOTA TV) -- A federal judge will hear legal arguments against the Keystone XL Pipeline in October. But no matter how he rules it won't change the Cheyenne River tribe's prohibition against trucks involved in the project from crossing its land.

It's no secret that the Native peoples of the territory have led efforts to oppose pipeline development.

"One of the things we want to do is protect our water," said Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier. "That water is the most precious thing that we can have. We know that water is life and that's what we need is good fresh water and we're here to protect it and stand up for it."

They've organized protests, flooded administrative hearings and filed lawsuits. And on the Cheyenne River reservation, they've exercised their sovereign powers by barring vehicles involved in pipeline activities from driving within tribal boundaries.

"We've never given up the authority to regulate for the safety, health, welfare of our tribal members and the residents of our reservation," said Cheyenne River Attorney General Stacey Zephier. "And so that extends to roads, it extends to all aspects of maintaining safety for our people."

In June tribal law enforcement escorted two vehicles off the reservation after police determined they were involved with the Keystone XL Pipeline project. A Tribal ordinance reads that "any and all Keystone XL trucks ... will be turned around immediately."

This is a situation that has many layers. State highways cross the reservation built on federal rights of way -- through a sovereign nation.

But tribal authorities feel they are on firm ground and vow continued enforcement.

"Simply because it's a state highway does not mean that the tribe is not going to look out for the welfare and the safety of the residents of reservation and all who pass through our reservation," Zephier said.

A spokesman for South Dakota attorney general Jason Ravnsborg said his office had no plans to challenge the tribe but was was monitoring developments.