Native Activist Avoids Jail Time for Keystone XL Protest

On the Same Day TC Energy Scraps Its Troubled Pipeline Project, Jasilyn Charger Negotiates a Plea Deal That Keeps Her Out of Jail. Oscar High Elk Still Faces Major Charges.

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On the same day Canadian pipeline developer TC Energy announced that it’s officially terminating its Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline project, one Native American activist has avoided jail time for her protest against it.

Jasilyn Charger, represented by attorney Terry L. Pechota, pled no contest today to a charge of criminal trespass under the South Dakota penal code, agreeing to six months probation and fines totaling $518, in exchange for her freedom.

“It’s a great day for me personally, and the news that KXL is officially, finally dead is a big victory for all water protectors,” said Charger, who hails from the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation. “I hope this shows that — even as states around the country continue to pass laws criminalizing protest — the people still have power, and our activism can make a real difference.”

Meanwhile, a separate court date was postponed for another Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe activist, Oscar High Elk, until July 7. High Elk faces a litany of serious charges in South Dakota after protesting against the pipeline, which would have passed close to the Cheyenne River Reservation, and allegedly refusing to pull over when pursued by a police officer.

“I’m so proud of Jasilyn, and I’m honored to stand in the trenches with her against this dangerous pipeline and all threats to our sacred water and lands,” High Elk said. “Respect our existance or expect our resistance. It's time to stop destroying the Earth. Water is life, and I feel we’ve had a major victory against encroachment by fossil fuel companies on treaty lands. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to reach a reasonable resolution in my case as well, but South Dakota is not a place where Natives can always count on fairness.”

The Lakota People’s Law Project, a nonprofit Native advocacy and legal organization, has provided legal support in Ms. Charger’s case, including helping source Pechota to serve as her primary attorney. 

The organization’s co-director and lead counsel, Chase Iron Eyes, said, “This is a day to celebrate, but with clear eyes about what the future holds. Freedom for Jasilyn and the end of KXL are just starting points. The Dakota Access pipeline still crosses our unceded treaty lands, without a legal permit, endangering the sole water supply of the Standing Rock Nation. And, in Minnesota, Line 3 poses a similar threat to Anishinaabe homelands. None of this is acceptable, and we won’t stop fighting to protect water, defend our sacred lands, and safeguard the right to protest for every activist — Native or allied — on the front lines on behalf of Mother Earth.”

The Lakota People's Law Project operates under the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, a nonprofit law and policy center.