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Anti-Keystone XL Rally (copy)

Nick Tilsen speaks at a June rally protesting the Keystone XL pipeline law.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline say they plan to continue organizing against its construction after the state agreed not to enforce parts of anti-riot laws. 

"What NDN Collective plans to do next is continue to resource our movement, continue to deploy organizers in the field and mobilize our people for climate justice and against the KXL pipeline," said Nick Tilsen, founder of the Rapid City-based organization and a plaintiff in a suit against the anti-riot laws. 

"We're standing in solidarity with everyone who wants to stop this pipeline" and are working to stop the permits the pipeline needs, said Frank James, staff director of Dakota Rural Action, another plaintiff in the lawsuit. 

Gov. Kristi Noem and Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg have agreed not to enforce two anti-riot laws and parts of new laws aimed at protests against the Keystone XL Pipeline, according to a settlement agreement submitted Thursday to a federal judge. The pipeline would cross Harding, Butte, Perkins, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman, Meade and Tripp counties. 

Such laws are part of a growing trend of state and federal laws aimed at protests, especially those against extractive industries, the ACLU said in a news release that pointed to U.S. Protest Law Tracker website

The ACLU filed a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of Dakota Rural Action, NDN Collective, Tilsen, the Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network and Dallas Goldtooth of IEN. All say they are planning to non-violently protest the pipeline and encourage others to do so but feared criminal or civil liability under the laws. 

"Our settlement is 100 percent of what we wanted to accomplish," said Tilsen, of the Oglala Lakota Nation who protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. "Some of the foundational purposes of our democracy is our right and our ability to protest, to organize, and mobilize and use our voices against injustice," he said. "It's a victory of common everyday people standing up to the tyrants that exist in the fossil fuel industry and the special interests that support them."

James said his organization is concerned about leaks since TC Energy's pipelines have leaked in the past, the impact to indigenous people in Canada and South Dakota, man camps, and the impact on roads and land owners. 

"It's not a question of if they're going to leak, it's when and how much and what that looks like," Tilsen said. 

The world needs to transition from fossil fuels in order to stop climate change, Tilsen said. He said NDN Collective is concerned about the money and power transnational fossil fuel companies have to influence politicians and projects that erode people's rights, the company's lack of long-term job creation and investment in poor South Dakota counties and reservations, and man camps links to drugs, violence, and missing and murdered indigenous women. 

Data and reporting show that the oil boom in North Dakota and Montana was associated with an increase in violent crime, often on reservations and against women.

James says South Dakota politicians were premature in passing the riot laws since the pipeline, if approved, wouldn't be built until several years from now.

"It seems like we're being treated like something else — like protesters or terrorists or something like that — for being involved in a legitimate democratic process" by trying to stop permits, he said. 

The settlement agreement prohibiting the state from enforcing the laws will only end if the unconstitutional parts are "substantially revised" by the Legislature, and both Noem and Ravnsborg said they will work to update and improve the laws.

But James and Tilsen said they're not interested in negotiating with the state about these laws.

"The intent of the law was to violate the rights of our people and muzzle our movement" and we don't want to work with the fossil fuel industry and its political allies, Tilsen said.

He said his group is "more than willing" to speak with state leaders about other issues, such as improving education for Native American students.

"If you look at how these bills got passed  — where they came in right before the end of the 2018-19 session and they were driven through in 72 hours  — they were not interested in anyone's opinion at that point," James said. 

He said Dakota Rural Action would be willing to meet with state leaders to discuss the impact of the pipeline and lack of environmental protection. 

"Unless we're going to talk about all of that stuff, I don't want to talk to you about rioting," he said. "I think that's the least concern that we should have at this point."

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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