A local woman has been hired as the first Indigenous Justice Organizer for the ACLU in the Dakotas.
Candi Brings Plenty, 38, is a member of Oglala Sioux Tribe who grew up between Rapid City and the Pine Ridge Reservation and now lives in the Badlands. Her Lakota name is Wakinyan Tunwanpi Iyoyanpa Win (Bright Lightning Woman).
"Candi’s commitment to social justice, along with her background and experience in advocacy and organizing, made her a natural fit for this position," Executive Director Heather Smith said in a news release. "The ACLU has wanted to expand its work on indigenous issues in the region for a long time. With Candi on board, our capacity to create change is bigger than ever."
"I absolutely knew this was something that I wanted to pursue so that I could open doors and create spaces and places for our grassroots communities to start empowering themselves, to engage their civil liberties that are entitled to us," Brings Plenty told the Journal.
The ACLU said it was inspired to create the position due to a new South Dakota law aimed at potential protests against the Keystone XL pipeline that the organization says violates the First Amendment. A federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law from being enforced after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of indigenous and environmental groups.
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Brings Plenty will focus on pipeline and free speech issues as well as Native American voting accessibility, the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, and two spirit inclusion, the news release says. She herself is two spirit, a modern umbrella term for indigenous people that recognizes multiple genders and fluid sexualities.
Brings Plenty graduated from Oglala Lakota College and earned graduate certificates in public administration and public and nonprofit management from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon, the news release says. She led the two spirit encampment for 11 months during the protest and prayer movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline and served as executive director of the EQUI Institute, a trans health clinic, in Portland.
"I've seen how there's not a seat at the table" for indigenous people, Brings Plenty said of her time in Portland. After returning to South Dakota, she said, she then saw "how we are completely obedient and haven't had the guidance and the leadership within the Indian community to break those barriers."
Brings Plenty said she wanted to help her community so she joined on as a campaign adviser and executive for Julian Bear Runner, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She said she's now ready to work on a statewide level by helping the ACLU connect with not just Native people, but tribal government.
The goal is for Native people to be "seen and heard," Brings Plenty said.