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Joye Braun taps members of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission at a hearing on the Keystone XL pipeline on January 5, 2016.

Keystone XL: Counting Coup on SD Utilities Commission Delivers Powerful Message

Mary Annette Pember

Although the touch of her cane was as light as a feather, the weight of counting coup on Keystone pipeline supporters was heavy with symbolism.

Joye Braun of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe of South Dakota employed the traditional act of counting coup, lightly touching the enemy with a stick, to issue a promise that the tribes will never allow the TransCanada Keystone pipeline to cross Native land.

Braun is a longtime intervener with the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC); an intervener is a citizen who agrees to take a formal participatory role in legal actions relating to PUC actions. She decided to count coup on TransCanada executives and PUC members at a January 5 meeting in which the PUC approved TransCanada’s route through the state.

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The PUC’s approval overrode objections from tribal and other opponents who argued that the company should begin its application process from scratch since too much time had elapsed since the initial PUC approval more than four years ago.

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“For many of the Plains tribes, counting coup is the ultimate act of shaming your enemy,” Braun said. “It tells them that you’re not afraid to come up to them, touch them, and walk away without fear of being killed, or in my case, of being arrested.”

Traditionally, warriors are the ones who have counted coup on enemies, and although many tribal veterans and others have tried to bring staffs or coup sticks into official meetings, they have often been asked to leave these items outside.

“I have mad love and respect for our veterans, but I just couldn’t let the PUC have the last word,” Braun said. “I didn’t want to cheapen any of the work that our warriors have done, but I felt like I had to say something about the Commission’s rubber stamping TransCanada’s proposed route through Native land.”

Braun, 46 has rheumatoid arthritis and sometimes uses a cane to walk. She is often present at PUC meetings, so her actions seemed to catch commissioners and TransCanada executive off guard when she loudly proclaimed, “I count coup on you. It shall never pass; this is a zombie pipeline! Our horses are ready!”

One of the PUC commissioners can be heard in the background repeatedly asking, “Is there a motion to adjourn?”

“The TransCanada executive didn’t seem to have any awareness of what had happened, but the Commissioners kind of jumped back when I touched them with my cane,” Braun said with a laugh.

In the video Braun can be seen raising her fist before walking out; she was not arrested.

“This is a zombie pipeline!” she declares in the video, which was posted on Facebook.

RELATED: TransCanada Urged to Throw in the Towel—Literally—on 'Zombie' Keystone XL

Braun and many others have complained about a lack of prior, informed consent for tribes and treaty rights regarding the entire Keystone XL pipeline planning process. “The PUC has constantly thrown out our arguments regarding treaty rights and crossing allotted land,” Braun said. “I just got really mad. I wanted to let them know the pipeline will never cross our lands.”

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