For Indigenous Peoples in South Dakota, the land is more than just the ground beneath our feet.
We believe in and act upon the notion that people, nature, society and all living things are interconnected, in relation to one another, and operate as a system. Our Indigenous cultures have taught us through our languages, stories and life ways that our identity and very existence is directly connected to the land.
First proposed in 2008, the Keystone XL Pipeline would carry as much as 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil per day from the Alberta, Canada, oil sands through South Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries. Though the proposed pipeline route doesn’t go through federally recognized reservations in South Dakota, should there be an oil spill, it has the potential to seriously affect our land, our water, our environment and future generations.
This land, known today as South Dakota, is the ancestral territory of the Oceti Sakowin, otherwise known as the Seven Council Fires of Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people. This is where our people have lived for thousands of years. Our territory as Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people today is not defined by the colonial boundaries that have been created around us, but rather, where our people have existed in harmony with Mother Earth for generations. The proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline goes through the heart of the Oceti Sakowin.
Pipelines like this don’t build up the economy at all. They only make a few people rich, create very few, temporary jobs and contribute to climate change, which is a problem not only for the Indigenous Peoples of this region but for humanity as a whole. That’s why we plan on organizing our communities and encouraging people to try to stop the pipeline through peaceful protest.
The state of South Dakota, however, doesn’t want anything to disrupt the pipeline’s construction and recently passed the Riot Boosting Act, a new law that is designed to silence free speech and the right to peacefully protest.
But our voices won’t be silenced. Our sacred lands are too important.
That’s why the NDN Collective, with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Riot Boosting Act on the grounds that it violates our First Amendment rights and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. NDN Collective joins Dakota Rural Action, the Sierra Club and the Indigenous Environmental Network as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
South Dakota’s Riot Boosting Act creates financial punishments for “riot-boosting,” a new term that defines the actions both of protesters who participate in “riots” as well as anyone who “does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence.”
According to Gov. Kristi Noem, these laws are largely for “outside agitators” protesting pipelines. This is not true. The fact is that many South Dakota residents, tribal communities, farmers, ranchers and land owners are against the KXL pipeline, so this law is designed to discourage constituents right here in South Dakota.
We aren’t outside agitators. We are right here on Main Street. Come have a cup of coffee with us.
The courts will ultimately decide whether the laws are unconstitutional or not, but we, as everyday people, fathers, mothers, community members and people, can make sure we voice our opinion on what is morally and ethically right.
Stand with us as we stand for the First Amendment of the U.S constitution.
Nick Tilsen of Porcupine, S.D., is the President & CEO of NDN Collective and a Citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation.