PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union is creating a new position in South Dakota to focus on indigenous issues, spurred in part by the state toughening laws ahead of possible Keystone XL pipeline protests.
ACLU director of campaigns Sabrina King said the position will be modeled on the organization’s indigenous justice program in Montana. King will supervise the new South Dakota position.
The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported the ACLU has long wanted to build on its work on indigenous issues in the state. The idea took on new urgency after South Dakota this year passed laws aimed at potential Keystone XL protests.
With memories fresh of disruptive protests against the Dakota Access pipeline that cost neighboring North Dakota nearly $40 million and led to hundreds of arrests beginning in late 2016, South Dakota pushed the laws through late in this year’s legislative session just days after they were proposed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
The laws require pipeline companies to help pay extraordinary expenses such as the cost of policing during protests and aim to pursue money from demonstrators who engage in so-called “riot boosting,” which is defined in part as encouraging violence during a riot.
The measures sparked opposition from Native Americans tribes who said they weren’t consulted.
The ACLU is challenging the laws in federal court, arguing they are unconstitutional.
King said the person in the new position will build relationships with indigenous people throughout the state and ask the question, “What are the issues that are affecting your community that the ACLU needs to be working on?” King said.
It has become clear that the basis of organizing is building relationships rather than hiring more attorneys or policy directors, she said.
They already know there are topics that need focus, including missing and murdered indigenous women and the Keystone XL pipeline. But the ACLU knows there are other areas that it’s missing, and the new position will allow the ACLU to work on those issues in partnership with indigenous people in South Dakota, she said.
“Across the ACLU, we’re focusing a lot more on indigenous communities and really wanting to build relationships and be in conversation with folks,” especially in places like Montana and South Dakota where the indigenous justice organizers can work in a more focused way, she said.