Oglala Sioux Tribe tells Noem 'you are not welcome' on Pine Ridge after pipeline bill package

The Syncrude oil sands plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, Aug. 28, 2015. The Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from Canadian oil sands fields to the Gulf of Mexico, has long been at the center of a struggle pitting environmentalists against advocates of energy independence and economic growth. Copyright 2017 New York Times
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PIERRE, S.D. — The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council told Republican Gov. Kristi Noem that she is not welcome on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation after she introduced a controversial oil pipeline package in March without consulting South Dakota's nine sovereign Indian nations .

Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner wrote in a Thursday, May 2, letter to Noem that the tribal council on Wednesday unanimously voted to bar Noem from the reservation in southwest South Dakota, an area larger than the state of Delaware, until she rescinds Senate Bills 189 and 190 .

"We have superior legal title to all the land west of the Missouri River that you and/or big oil seek to trespass and agress on," Bear Runner wrote. "These are our lands and our waters."

Bear Runner warned, "If you do not honor this directive (...) we will have no choice but to banish you."

In a Thursday afternoon response to Bear Runner's letter, spokesperson for Noem Kristin Wileman said in an emailed statement, "The governor has spent considerable time in Pine Ridge building relationships with tribal members, visiting businesses, discussing economic development, and working with leadership.


"This announcement from Oglala Sioux tribal leadership is inconsistent with the interactions she has had with members of the community," she continued.

Wileman said Noem will "maintain her efforts to build relationships with the tribes."

Bear Runner's letter stems from Noem's bill package, introduced in the final days of the 2019 legislative session . SB 189 , in particular, establishes civil penalties for what Noem calls "riot boosting," or "direct(ing), advis(ing), encourag(ing) or solicit(ing) any other person participating in the riot to acts of force or violence."

According to the statute, as approved by both the state House and Senate on the same day despite protest and questions on procedure , a person found guilty of riot boosting does not need to personally participate in the riot in order to be found guilty and liable for up to three times the cost of damages.

Noem introduced the package in anticipation of TransCanada's construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline through South Dakota. Representatives of TransCanada were consulted prior to the package's introduction.

The statute, as well as two others, are being challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union , who say it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution .

In his letter, Bear Runner said Noem's definition of riot boosting is "newly fabricated" and "unconstitutionally vague," and that it "will not stand."

"We are particularly offended that you consulted TransCanada before introducing these bills but failed to consult with the Oglala Sioux Tribe, or any of the sovereign bands of the Sioux Nation, though our treaty lands would be traversed and endangered by the Keystone XL Pipeline," he wrote.


Legal counsel for Noem's office Matt McCauley told legislators during the bill package's single hearing that tribes were not consulted because the proposed route for TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline does not directly cross federally recognized reservations.

Bear Runner wrote that the pipeline "was deemed by a previous president to be so dangerous to our sacred lands and atmosphere that he shut it down."

He continue, "How can you presume to criminalize those who would agree with that previous presidential judgement and hence take vigorous action to resist dangerous infrastructure?"

Bear Runner and other tribal leaders throughout the state have already pulled from an upcoming state-tribal ceremony declared by Noem in response to the bill package.

Wileman added in Noem's written response, "It’s unfortunate that the governor was welcomed by Oglala Sioux’s leadership when resources were needed during the storms, but communication has been cut off when she has tried to directly interact with members of the Pine Ridge community."

Pine Ridge experienced devastating flooding in March following Winter Storm Wesley and subsequent snowmelt.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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