There was a 90 minute hearing today in the case brought by native tribes who seek to prevent the flow of oil through the soon-to-be-completed Dakota Access Pipeline. No ruling was issued but the Associated Press reports there was some indication the judge in the case was skeptical of a religious rights argument being made by the tribes:

Tribal attorney Nicole Ducheneaux argued during the 1 ½ hour hearing that the mere existence of an oil pipeline under the reservoir that provides water to neighboring reservations violates their right to practice their religion, which relies on clean water.

Boasberg asked Ducheneaux how there could be a contamination issue if “the pipeline itself doesn’t even touch the water.”

“Can you claim a property interest in the land as well as the water?” he asked.

Ducheneaux said the judge appeared to be questioning the sincerity of the tribes’ beliefs and stressed there was no other source of clean water available near the tribe’s reservation.

Activist Chase Iron Eyes said, “it’s clear that American or Western (courts) … lack a place intellectually or spiritually to comprehend the sacred relationship between the original peoples of this hemisphere and the waters.”

The initial lawsuit aimed at blocking completion of the pipeline argued that construction could damage important cultural sites or contaminate the water supply. But the tribes added this religious argument to the lawsuit recently.

Clearly, those leading the effort against the pipeline aren’t going to be happy with any result that leaves it in place. But even if the judge takes the tribes’ views about water at face value, that doesn’t mean it gives them the right to supersede the rights of others to the legal use of the land.

Judge Boasberg is expected to make a decision on this issue in the next week. Even if he rules against the tribes, the lawsuit over other issues, such as the granting of an easement for the construction under Lake Oahe, is expected to go on for several more months.