PIERRE, S.D. — The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is looking to increase its engagement with Native American tribes in the plains after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem introduced and signed into law a controversial pipeline bill package.
ACLU-SD on July 13 posted online a job opening for a Indigenous Justice Organizer position to be based in the litigation group's Rapid City office. Sabrina King, who works as the ACLU's director of campaigns in Wyoming and the Dakotas, said the new position is the ACLU's first step in building an Indigenous rights program in the region, similar to one that already exists in Montana.
She said through the program, the ACLU hopes to build relationships with and devote more resources to the tribes, and "(look) at issues that are important to Native communities through the ACLU's lens."
King said though motivation to establish such a program in the Dakotas has been building for years, the final "spark" to post the opening was Noem's so-called riot boosting bill, which she introduced in the final days of the 2019 legislative session without consulting South Dakota's nine tribes, many of whom have been vocal opponents of TC Energy (formally known as TransCanada)'s Keystone XL pipeline.
Noem's bill, which she signed into law March 27, establishes civil penalties for anyone who "direct(s), advise(s), encourage(s) or solicit(s) any other person participating in the riot to acts of force or violence," even if they don't participate in the protest themselves. The ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the law and two other South Dakota statutes on rioting, saying they violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments. A federal judge heard arguments from plaintiffs and the state in June and has yet to make a decision on the case.
Pipeline protests and free speech are not the only areas that will be covered by the program, though. King said the ACLU will also be working to strengthen voting accessibility to tribal communities as 2020 approaches, and on the long-lasting epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
King noted that Indigenous organizations and Native grassroots activists have been organizing in the region for years but, "The fact that there aren’t more positions like this at national organizations like the ACLU is huge disservice."
"We recognize where we have had gaps in our work and one of those huge gaps is working with Native communities in a way that is long-term and systemic," she said. "We're putting our money where our mouths are. This is a huge priority moving forward for the ACLU and I hope for other national organizations, as well."
King said the search for a candidate is being conducted nationwide, but priority will be placed on candidates who are either from or currently live in the Dakotas, as well as Native candidates. She said they hope to have the position filled by mid-September.