“Peaceful does not mean Docile.”

Widespread opposition to Montana's fossil fuel anti-protest bill is being ignored by the state's Republican-controlled legislature.

- Lauri Little Dog, MT House Judiciary hearing, Feb. 24. [09:05:21]


UPDATE, 4/30: The 11th hour amendments to this bill struck some (but not all) of the most concerning language, specifically removing the maximum penalties for vague offenses of “impeding or inhibiting operations” of fossil fuel infrastructure. Those offenses can still result in 18 month prison sentences and $4,500 in fines. Earther has more. The enrolled bill text is here.

I’m taking a break from my usual schtick (villains) to uplift some of the many arguments made against the latest state anti-protest bill, Montana HB 481.

The bill was approved in a final House vote Monday morning.

After the enrolled bill is signed into law by legislative leaders, it goes to the governor, a violent mega-millionaire who loves oil pipelines. I wouldn’t count on him to veto it.

Montana’s HB 481 is opposed by many people from the region’s Native organizations, collectives, communities, and tribal governments. The bill is opposed by the state ACLU and several other organizations as well.

If you want to check out some maps, I think it helps.

Native-Land.ca has interactive maps of historic indigenous territories, and links to helpful references, which you can help finance or volunteer for:

This map, from the University of Montana’s Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, shows current tribal reservations relative to the state’s political boundaries:

The quotes below are a mix of statements made in two hearings: the House Judiciary committee on Feb. 24, and the Senate Judiciary committee hearing on April 1.

Links to videos are time-stamped, if you want to watch.

I included links to organizations you might consider $upporting.

Indigenous Sovereignty

Daliyah Killsback, Western Native Voice, and Indigenous Organizers Collective

Our organization is in strong opposition to this bill, because we believe it to be targeting not only Constitutional rights of Montana citizens, but also the tribal sovereignty of our tribal nations within the state. It is no secret that ‘No DAPL’ and Keystone XL have been issues that have garnered a lot of attention. [08:47:59 - House]

“Why peaceably protest?

Many laws and treaties are broken in the process of pipelines being built. Tribal sovereignty concerns were expressed by the Rosebud Sioux and Fort Belknap Tribal Nations. They were not consulted [on Keystone XL], as required by law and Department of Interior policy, as well as, the Bureau of Land Management failed to analyze and uphold the United States treaty obligations to protect the tribes and lands and the natural resources.

Again, there was not an alternate route that was evaluated, to avoid these treaty lands, and these are unceded lands. As well as other statutes, such as the Mineral Leasing Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, that all required tribal consultation, which did not occur.” [09:08:36 - Senate]

Keaton Sunchild, Western Native Voice:

“From our point of view, we are pretty tired of having to stand up here and defend our right to tribal sovereignty, and try to figure out what parts of the Constitution we’re going to follow and abide by, and what parts we’re just going toss to the side.

I’ve been in front of you guys far too many times, having to have this discussion, and we don’t think this bill protects…anything. In fact, it kind of takes away the right to peaceably assemble, protest, as Sam* said, and, in our opinion, is aimed at Native Americans in response to previous pipeline protests in the Dakotas, when it comes to the Keystone [XL] pipeline.

And we just urge that you do not pass this bill, that you protect our Constitutional freedoms, for all Montanans. Thank you. [08:46:04]

Jestin Dupree, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes council member, and vice chair of Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders:

“This bill deprives the tribes and its members of their Constitutional rights to assemble and protest peacefully. I would like to state that our tribes were not consulted at any point during the KXL discussion, which was to be built on the west side of our reservation. Why are these things happening without proper government-to-government consultation?” [08:33:02]

Crimes are Already Crimes

Ta’jin Perez, Montana Native Vote

Under current Montana law, trespassing and vandalism related to energy infrastructure are already crimes.

Law enforcement response to perceived or real threats to energy infrastructure—despite how it can be heavy-handed in some situations—is already effective and adequate as remedy on behalf of those interests.

There are consequences already in existence for individuals who knowing and intentionally commit trespass and destruction of property. Additionally, damage to property in excess of $1,500 is a felony under criminal statute. […]

I’ve personally participated in many protests and demonstrations, for various reasons, and led by different groups. The common thread in all of these actions is legitimate nonviolent direct action. Of course, if within this group, an individual decides to cause damage to property, and commit that offense, they are justifiably liable for their actions and should be prosecuted.

However, House Bill 481 makes a dangerous precedent and would make nonviolent members of a protest or demonstration equally as liable as those who actually commit the crimes. [08:57:26]

No Constituents Asked for the Bill

Joan Kresich of the Northern Plains Resource Council:

We, the people, didn’t ask for it. Others have spoken about whose interests this bill actually serves. Right now, peoples’ challenges all over this state are enormous. Please consider a no vote on this bill. [09:01:03]

Derf Johnson of the Montana Environmental Information Council (MEIC):

Noticeably absent from the supporters of this bill are the Department of Justice. Presumably, if this was a problem, they would have shown up.

Noticeably absent is anybody from law enforcement. If there was a problem, presumably they would have shown up. Nobody from the justice community showed up, no judges, no individual police officers.

That begs the question for me: why are we here? Are we more interested in targeting a certain set of individuals? Or are we trying to make the punishment fit the crime?” [09:42:37]

*Sam Forstag, ACLU of Montana

We could spend quite a bit more time going through the manifold issues with this bill, how it’s language is broad enough to criminalize numerous acts of peaceful protest. […]

I was very pleased to hear that many of the interests, the business interests who came before me, are concerned with the safety of individual citizens. I would expect that it would be in their interest to offer the steepest possible fines and criminal penalties when their business interests are threatened.

But it’s my hope that your chief interest is to protect the basic civil rights of our citizens and make sure that we’re not putting those penalties in the absolute steepest and most cumbersome form that we can.

That’s exactly what this bill does, and I urge a no vote on House Bill 481. [08:51:50]

Clean Water is Critical

Patricia Ironcloud Runs Through, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes council member:

“The tribes have been against the [Keystone XL] pipeline from the beginning. I have many grandchildren and great grandchildren. We want the water from Fort Peck Lake, from the Missouri River, from the Milk River to stay pure.” [08:54:08]

Runs Through mentioned taking part in peaceful protests against the Keystone XL in Billings, MT, and noted the pipeline itself has no major benefit for Montana, where it simply delivers tar sands oil from Canada on its way to refineries in other states.

Charles Walkingchild, self-identified as Ojibwe, Cree, & Blackfeet:

“This pipeline, and many others that we want to put a stop to, is only going to benefit the rich. The corporations. It’s gonna effect your children and grandchildren.

America. You call America ‘America.’ I call it ‘Turtle Island.’ It’s indigenous land.

I ask that you get educated on this, because what I’ve seen in North Dakota is you had Native Americans protesting. And the reason they were protesting is because of the aqua that lies beneath that ground. This pipeline is going to contaminate that. […]

They want to inflict a lot of pain on Native Americans. This is how we’re treated in our own country.” [08:39:08]

The Pipeline-to-Prison Pipeline

Daliyah Killsback, Western Native Voice:

We find that this bill would only serve to silence and criminalize advocacy. And we also have concerns for the criminalization of indigenous peoples that would participate in exercising these rights. [08:48:52]

Jordan Thompson, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation:

We have a lot of critical infrastructure on our reservation, as well. And so while we support protecting that, we are also looking at the disproportionately high number of Native Americans incarcerated. And so we just wonder about the penalties in this bill. [08:47:18]

Josh Butterfly:

We work with people in re-entry, getting out of prison and getting their lives back on track. And this is kind of a slap in the face to the taxpayers who voted to get these programs, to assist individuals when they return, after a term of incarceration, in the communities.

And this is a doorway back into the justice system and back into these prisons, which is a pretty significant price tag over the heads of each individual. And this is only going to bring revenue to the Department of Corrections, for those bodies. So we strongly oppose this bill. [09:11:50]

Jestin Dupree, Fort Peck Assiniboine & Sioux Tribes Council member:

The criminal penalties section describes actions that are commonly known as criminal trespass to property, criminal mischief, and conspiracy. These crimes are already in the Montana code.

However, House Bill 481 triples the punishments for trespass and mischief, and makes the punishment for conspiracy ten times more than the crime. Usually, conspiracy punishments are only equal to the punishment of the actual crime.

This shows the drafters of this bill think the property of giant, international corporations are more important than the property of Montana citizens, and is a direct attack on the tribal members of the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux tribes. These punishments attempt to stop citizens from exercising their constitutional rights, because of these excessive penalties.

House Bill 481 only seeks to beat Montana citizens into submission so that multinational corporations can pillage our lands and pollute our waters.

These excessive fines constitute Cruel and Unusual Punishment, and violate the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Article 2 of the Montana Constitution. [08:39:03]

Advocacy by, and for, Veterans

Charles Walkingchild - on his own behalf, self-identified as Ojibwe, Cree, & Blackfeet

I’ll tell you something about my history: My generation, on the Ojibwe side, we have the original flag of the United States of America. We fought in the Revolution against England, to free this country. To free the people, back then.

We were brought into the Greenville Treaty, and attacked. As rights, we should have been entitled to be a part of this country, this government that was formed. But instead, we were pursued. And the order was, ‘kill the full blood, spare the half-breed.’

We’re still here. But we’re not here for money. We’re not here for greed. We need jobs. It’s time we put these corporations down. That pipeline ain’t going to benefit you or your kids, whether you’re Democrat or Republican.

These penalties are gonna just be a way of protecting their own security and interests. [8:44:14]

Walkingchild suggested that if oil needs moving, it would be best put people to work by trucking the oil, urging the legislator to consider it as a way to employ veterans.

Jestin Dupree, Fort Peck Tribes Councilman

I served my country in the Army as an infantryman, and it took me [on] five tours overseas.

I now serve our tribe with the same passion, and I can’t seem to wrap my head around the bills like this, like the one we’re seeing today. We should be moving forward, not backwards. [08:40:27]

Cable TV is Critical AF

Adrian Jawort, Montana Native Vote

This bill does single out specific types of protest, that we all know might as well just say ‘pipelines’ instead of however many objects it listed, because it’s not like anyone is going to protest cable TV infrastructure. [08:38:21]

In context, this was funny.

The bill defines all sorts of industrial properties as “critical infrastructure,” even though the trend plainly originated as backlash to indigenous-led movements to protect land, water, and people from threats posed by pipelines, specifically the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).

Here’s an image showing the two pages from the bill, listing various infrastructure deemed critical, and the bit on cable TV.

Because if we can’t watch cable TV, the terrorists win.

Not mentioned: Hospitals.

(See Oklahoma, 2017, Wisconsin, 2019, and South Dakota, 2019-2020, for more examples of Native-led advocacy against state laws retaliating against pipeline protests.)