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Excerpts from recent South Dakota editorials

May 13, 2019

Rapid City Journal, May 12

Respect critical for state-tribal relations today

Treaty disputes, historical aggression, poverty and cultural differences impede every inch of headway toward racial reconciliation in South Dakota. The ongoing fight over Keystone XL pipeline construction further complicates progress.

In recent weeks, state and tribal governments have entrenched themselves in ways that erode even the modest gains made since Gov. George Mickelson declared a Year of Reconciliation 30 years ago, since Gov. Mike Rounds declared a Year of Unity 10 years ago.

It’s time to hit pause. Is there a better path forward?

Racial disputes in South Dakota naturally tend toward confrontation. They did so in 1890 in the frozen valley of Wounded Knee and again in 1973 after the American Indian Movement took over Wounded Knee for 71 days. The damage spreads quickly, but it takes so much time and cautious effort to reverse.

Today, two proud cultures gird themselves to win a fair share of respect and demonstrate strength. It’s potentially explosive.

Gov. Kristi Noem must show real leadership to prevent further damage. It must start with a public and respectful acknowledgment of the legitimate interests that Native Americans have in the Keystone XL pipeline debate.

Respect does not mean surrender. Parties can respectfully disagree. Respect means listening and accommodating.

Last week, the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council informed Noem she is unwelcome on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation unless she rescinds legislation establishing civil penalties for “riot boosting.”

Obvious to almost everyone is that Noem will not back down. South Dakota has a legitimate interest in protecting state and county budgets from the high costs of pipeline protests.

The tribal gesture was an act of anger, of defiance. It was a stand made by those who feel they have no alternative, who feel wronged.

The legal issues underlying Noem’s legislation matter greatly, but it’s a perception of dismissiveness that enrages tribal leaders. Noem’s defensive posture since gaining legislative approval only deepens tribal umbrage.

Tribes were informed they lacked standing in the legislative discussions because the proposed route for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline does not cross reservation boundaries. Tribal members and interests will be prominent among any pipeline protests. Everyone knows that. They’re a major part of this. Consider what happened in North Dakota.

It seems more likely the tribes were excluded because no legislation easing the way for Keystone XL would be acceptable to them. It may be true.

Exclusion, however, has left the tribes believing they were intentionally dismissed and circumvented.

Noem later doubled down with additional defensiveness: “Tribal leadership had the opportunity to influence the legislation once it was introduced, just like every other South Dakotan.”

Technically true, but the emergency rules used to speed legislative approval meant no South Dakota citizen had much of a say. It’s one thing to weigh in as legislation is formulated. It’s another to be an early reviewer. And it’s another altogether to be allowed to voice objections as a surprise package barrels across the finish line.

Noem recently called the tribe’s threat of banishment “unfortunate” and “quite a surprise.” In effect, she told tribes they were overreacting. Try that some time during a spousal argument. The results won’t be pretty.

It’s a bad look for South Dakota.

There are two paths forward. One path will lead to escalating words and increasing anger. Hotheads will react, and there will be repercussions. Fear and distrust will fester for another generation.

Or, Noem can publicly acknowledge that respect was overlooked.

The tribes, meanwhile, must be willing to consider the position of state and county governments. Resentment that has accumulated over 130 years cannot be undone at once and especially not during an emotionally charged dispute.

We must pick our ways carefully during these difficult times. Divorce will not end well for anyone. We’re stronger together.

Now is the time for both sides to swallow pride, set aside matters of right and wrong and of who started what. We must reach across the table, acknowledge the other, and listen.


Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, May 6

A tribe takes a stand on new laws

South Dakota’s Oglala Sioux Tribe took an unfortunate step last week when it announced that Gov. Kristi Noem was no longer welcome on the reservation.

But this move was likely seen as one of the only courses of action left to the tribe after the Legislature and the governor orchestrated the passage of a pair of unfortunate bills passed by the Legislature in March. These bills, which were introduced at the tail end of the session and had little overall scrutiny, basically target people — especially Native Americans — who may oppose (or even support those who oppose) the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Last week’s announcement came after the Oglala Sioux tribal council unanimously approved a measure that declared that Noem was “not welcomed” on the land until she withdraws support from the Senate bills 189 and 190.

Senate Bill (SB) 189 creates a fund to recover damages from identified third parties “to offset costs incurred by riot boosting,” which apparently refers not only to protesters who riot but also to people who in some way give aid to protesters who are eventually involved in rioting.

SB 190 creates something called the Pipeline Engagement Activity Coordination Expenses (PEACE) fund, which would help pay for costs incurred by “opposition to a project that would not have been incurred but for pipeline construction”

Both bills were products of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in North Dakota two years ago, and both bills, albeit generally vague, are clearly designed to discourage and undercut any protests during construction of TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Despite explanations by the governor to the contrary, the two bills clearly appear to place economic development over the right of free speech, even though protesting is a constitutionally protected form of speech. To be sure, it is unfortunate when violence erupts, but by passing preemptive laws that could punish, say, someone who simply provides a room and board to an individual who may be involved in a peaceful protest that eventually turns violent, the state is aiming to squelch any resistance to the pipeline. The range of criminality could be broad, even if the intent of that help was not to promote violence but to simply support a point of view that diverges from the state’s economic line. The message here could be seen as this: In order to not risk violating this law, don’t support the protests in any way.

Oglala Sioux officials are also “particularly offended,” they claim, because Noem consulted with TransCanada but not the tribes before the legislation was introduced.

The tribal leaders were also upset that Noem, who had visited the reservation in the wake of the March storms, had twice since then been to the reservation without contacting the leaders.

But the laws appear to be the big sticking point, as well they should be. These two pieces of legislation bend the constitutional boundaries of free expression, seemingly subordinating them to TransCanada’s plans and the state’s economic priorities.

As the Sioux Falls Argus Leader noted in an editorial in March, these bills are an “effort to suppress opposition in favor of powerful interests, a far cry from the constitutional freedoms that our country’s founders had in mind.”

What the state has in mind is to squelch opposition to a controversial pipeline project. And on constitutional principle, that’s wrong.

What the Oglala Sioux decided to do last week was indeed unfortunate, but given what they are up against, it may be their only recourse and perhaps the only way to get the attention that their grievances merit.


Madison Daily Leader, Madison, May 6

River’s Master Manual needs some revision

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Master Manual for operating the series of dams on the Missouri River is a complex document, balancing the needs of several constituencies, but we think some modifications are due.

The Corps is tasked with managing waterflows from the dams to assist in electricity generation, transportation, recreation, flood control, wildlife preservation and irrigation. The Corps also must predict the weather, from snow accumulation throughout the region, melting rates and rainfall impacts. It is not an easy job.

Even so, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done better. Flooding along the Missouri has taken a huge toll on people and the resources of the region, and in our opinion, must be raised on the priority list. While all river constituencies are important, we believe flood control should be increased in relative importance.

South Dakota, of course, is right in the center of the action. Four of the six dams in the system are in South Dakota, and we have strong connections to almost all the interests involving: A large portion of our state’s electric power comes from the dams, river recreation affects tourism, one of our largest industries, and when flooding occurs, it hits us hard.

The operating manual itself is rarely amended, although there are some operational decisions within the manual’s framework that can be changed more quickly.

Besides the effects on the Missouri River, the operation of the dams affects the Mississippi to a very large degree. The Missouri’s flow averages about 45 percent of the Mississippi’s flow, and in certain drought conditions, can be up to 70 percent. So flooding downstream in states like Mississippi and Louisiana is affected by what happens at the South Dakota dams.

The actual revision of the manual and the decisions it mandates is extremely complex and arduous, something we can’t address in an editorial. But we can confidently say that we believe flood control should be raised in importance among priorities.