As hearings wound down last week on whether the South Dakota Public Utility Commission (PUC) should re-certify the application by TransCanada to run the Keystone XL pipeline through the state, Yankton Sioux Tribal attorneys cross-examined the company’s witness, Rick Perkins, on how dangers posed by camps of temporary workers near the Yankton Sioux Reservation would be managed.
Under questioning, it became apparent that TransCanada had not consulted with affected tribes and that the camps have no policies in place to deal with prostitution, human trafficking or criminal activity perpetrated by camp residents in the local communities outside the boundaries—all issues that have arisen around similar settlements, known as “man camps” because of the predominance of male workers housed there, in and near the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.
The hearings are required to determine whether TransCanada must resubmit its application entirely, or if it can get the original permit—which was approved in 2010—recertified.
Three so-called man camps will be built near treaty and unceded territory of the Yankton Sioux, Rosebud Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes. These camps will be managed for TransCanada by Target Logistics, which presently manages 12 such installations in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, housing almost 4,000 workers. The three proposed Keystone XL man camps in South Dakota would be much larger in size and population than the average Bakken camp, housing about 1,000 workers each.
Reports from the Bakken of steep increases in sex trafficking, sexual assault and domestic violence affecting neighboring Native American communities have raised concerns from tribes near these proposed Keystone XL man camps. In Williston, North Dakota, a reservation border town, the past five years have seen rates of theft, abduction, violence, domestic abuse and sex crimes triple due to the oil boom.
Grace Her Many Horses, a former Rosebud Sioux Tribe police chief, witnessed it firsthand when she took a temporary job working in the Bakken Region near Newtown, North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. She found a small, tribal town overwhelmed by crime and with no jurisdiction over non-Indians and little cooperation from local county sheriffs, she told the Rosebud Sioux newspaper Sicangu Eyapaha for a story that was later reprinted in the Lakota Country Times.
Due to the 1978 Supreme Court ruling Oliphant vs. Suquamish Indian Tribe, tribes must turn non-tribally enrolled offenders over to the FBI, though it often declines to prosecute. This is something that the criminal element that is sometimes employed in the oil fields is likely to exploit.
“ ‘In North Dakota you can take whatever pretty little Indian girl that you like, and you can do whatever you want, and police don’t give a f— about it,’ ” said Annita Lucchesi (Southern Cheyenne), who works for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Council, telling Pacific Standard magazine what she had overheard workers saying. “To hear something like that—he was literally talking about kidnapping and raping girls in public at three in the afternoon—that is how bad it is.”
Yankton Sioux tribal elder and traditional leader Faith Spotted Eagle expressed concern about similar situations developing along the Keystone XL construction route. The man camp proposed for Southeastern Tripp County “is equidistant between the Rosebud Sioux Reservation and the Yankton Sioux Reservation,” she testified at the South Dakota PUC hearing last week. “However, it is closer to the Yankton Sioux Reservation when traveling by vehicle. The Yankton Sioux Tribe’s Fort Randall Casino and Hotel will be the closest large-scale entertainment center that offers a large selection of gaming, evening entertainment, bar and restaurant, and hotel in one place. I strongly believe that there will be undesired consequences that negatively and directly impact the Tribe’s sociocultural life, as well as a surge in violent crime for an already overburdened police force.”
Perkins claimed that TransCanada will work to solve cross-jurisdictional issues but admitted that they had not met with tribal police at any of the affected reservations. Most of his previous work in the field has been in Texas, where there are few federally recognized tribes. He confirmed that no study had been conducted by TransCanada regarding any potential increase of criminal activity due to workers in neighboring reservation communities. While TransCanada may not be legally required to keep crime down in man camps and protect the surrounding community, pipeline opponents at the PUC hearing said that the lack of attention to this element had them concerned.
Perkins also claimed there has never been a complaint about rape or sexual harassment at man camps run by Target Logistics, despite reports to the contrary. He also took issue with calling them man camps, saying that between four percent and six percent of the residents were women. He said that “pipeliners” are a different type of worker than the typical Bakken employee, as they are career professionals and union members. He did not know about drugs or human trafficking, saying that he knew only what he has gleaned from news accounts.
Perkins chalked up such concerns to “bad elements” but said that such workers are kept out of Target Logistics–run camps by a code of conduct that all residents are required to sign. He likened the code to the conduct that Holiday Inn expects of guests. For instance, like Holiday Inn, the Target Logistics camps do not allow open flames in rooms, he said.
When pressed by Yankton Sioux Tribal attorney Jennifer Baker about other things that are prohibited, Perkins listed alcohol, firearms, drugs and the sale of drugs. However, prostitution is not prohibited by the code of conduct. Neither is sexual activity with a minor, though both of those are against the law.
Also, Perkins admitted that neither Target Logistics nor TransCanada requires camp-worker background checks. He could not say whether a typical pipeline worker has a criminal record; registered sex offenders are not precluded from employment or from taking up residence at the camps.
He did promise that Target Logistics would turn over to law enforcement any resident engaged in criminal activity. However, once again, there is no official regulation specifically requiring the camp to turn lawbreakers over to law enforcement. Perkins also admitted that the code of conduct does not apply to criminal activity outside of camp. He noted that Target Logistics security officers are not licensed to carry weapons, and said he did not know whether they are trained in state and local laws or just camp rules.
Baker questioned TransCanada’s subsidizing of additional officers and asked whether this would prejudice law enforcement when it came to prosecuting TransCanada employees if officers’ salaries were being paid by the company. Perkins denied this would happen.
The responses did nothing to instill trust from the tribes that would be affected by the influx of oil-pipeline workers.
“TransCanada’s witness, Rick Perkins, did nothing to address the Tribe’s concerns,” said Thomasina Real Bird, representing the Yankton Sioux Tribe. “If anything, Mr. Perkins’s testimony reveals serious deficiencies in TransCanada’s proposed man camps, including, most shockingly, the lack of adequate safeguards put in place to protect the surrounding communities, the lack of background checks of the workers and security force, and the lack of any coordination with the Yankton Sioux Tribe law enforcement. TransCanada admitted to coordinating and donating to local county law enforcement—the same law enforcement to which it would refer allegations of crime that occur—but only if it occurs inside the camps.”
The hearings concluded on Wednesday August 5, and a final decision by the PUC is expected in November.
Jacqueline Keeler is a Navajo/Yankton Dakota Sioux writer living in Portland, Oregon and co-founder of Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry, creators of Not Your Mascot. She has been published in Telesur, Earth Island Journal and the Nation and interviewed on MSNBC and DemocracyNow and Native American Calling. She has a forthcoming book called “Not Your Disappearing Indian” and podcast. On twitter: @jfkeeler