South Dakota governor 'not welcome' at reservation over opposition to Keystone protesters, says Oglala Sioux Tribe

The issue stems from new legislation meant to punish "riot boosting."

May 3, 2019, 5:29 PM

Leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe have told South Dakota’s governor that she is no longer welcome to visit their land after signing two bills into law regulating protests over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In a May 2 letter sent to Gov. Kristi Noem, tribe president Julian Bear Runner said that "pursuant to unanimous Oglala Sioux Tribal Council Action as of May 1, 2019", the Republican governor was "not welcome" to visit their home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Southwestern South Dakota until she rescinds support for the two laws.

The reservation is located on "a swath of land the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined," according to a news release from the Lakota People's Law Project.

The bills, SB 189 and SB 190, were introduced by Noem and signed into law on March 27, according to a news release from the State of South Dakota. SB 189 created a fund to recover damages from third parties "to offset costs incurred by riot boosting." According to the law, someone is responsible for riot boosting if that person participates in a riot or "directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence."

SB 190 was created to establish a Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses (PEACE) fund to pay for administrative costs and "extraordinary expenses," which are costs that come as a result of "opposition to a project that would not have been incurred but for pipeline construction" and can cover the performance of law enforcement officers, functions arising from pipeline construction, and prosecution of criminal offenses.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem gives her first State of the State address in Pierre, S.D. South Dakota, Jan. 2019.
James Nord/AP, FILE

"I fully support the freedoms of speech and assembly, but we must also have clear expectations and the rule of law," Noem said after signing the bills into law. "My pipeline bills make clear that we will not let rioters control our economic development. These bills support constitutional rights while also protecting our people, our counties, our environment, and our state."

The tribe’s letter said that Noem’s idea of riot boosting "[was] being litigated against and [would] not stand." The letter also said the tribe was "particularly offended" that the governor consulted with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline, but not the tribe or sovereign bands of Sioux Nation before the bills were introduced, even though their lands "would be traversed and endangered" by the pipeline.

Bear Runner’s letter also recalled how a "previous president" said the pipeline was dangerous and shut it down, referencing President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the proposed pipeline in 2015.

"How can you presume to criminalize those who would agree with that previous presidential judgment and hence take vigorous action to resist dangerous infrastructure?" the letter asked.

Tribal leaders said the tribal council would have to rescind its action in order for the governor to be allowed to visit the Pine Ridge Reservation, and that her failure to follow their action, which could include visiting their land without permission from the tribal government, would leave them "no choice but to banish" her.

In response to the letter, Noem’s press secretary Kristin Wileman said in a statement that Noem "has spent considerable time in Pine Ridge building relationships with tribal members, visiting businesses, discussing economic development, and working with leadership," and that the announcement was "inconsistent with the interactions she has had with members of the community."

A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Nebraska, March 10, 2014.
Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters, FILE

"It’s unfortunate that the governor was welcomed by Oglala Sioux’s leadership when resources were needed during recent storms, but communication has been cut off when she has tried to directly interact with members of the Pine Ridge community," Wileman said in the statement. "The governor will continue working to engage with tribal members, stay in contact with tribal leadership, and maintain her efforts to build relationships with the tribes."

Chase Iron Eyes, the public relations liaison for President Bear Runner, told ABC News that Noem had been welcomed to the reservation when she and members of the National Guard had visited after the storms -- but that she had since made two stops without contacting the leaders. He said the governor's recent visits, the new laws, and her consulting with TransCanada pushed the tribe to make a decision.

Iron Eyes said he does not recall a situation where a sitting governor or elected official had been banned from the reservation, and that the tribal council never deliberated banishment and does not expect it to reach that point.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of South Dakota had filed a federal lawsuit in April over three South Dakota laws dealing with protests, including the law on riot boosting. The lawsuit said the laws "violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution by targeting and chilling protected speech, and by failing to adequately describe what speech or conduct could subject protesters and organizations to criminal and civil penalties," according to the ACLU.

In South Dakota, rioting is a Class 4 felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Encouraging or soliciting violence in a riot is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 25 years in prison, and encouraging a riot without participating is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would transport crude oil from Hardisty, Alberta, in Canada, south to Steele City, Nebraska, running through the province of Saskatchewan and the states of Montana and South Dakota.

Though the Obama administration rejected the pipeline proposal in 2015, President Donald Trump reversed that decision in 2017. A federal judge in Montana then blocked the reversal in November 2018 because the Trump administration had "ignored information about the pipeline's environmental impact," though Trump issued a new permit for construction in March.

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