The Ogala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux nations refuse to comply with orders that put their safety at risk.
Kristi Noem, the Republican Governor of South Dakota, threatened the Native American tribes with legal action if the coronavirus health checkpoints which they had put up on their own land were not removed by May 10th. This demand violates tribal sovereignty and puts lives at risk since the number of healthcare facilities on these reservations wouldn’t be enough to handle the outbreak. According to CNN, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has only one eight-bed facility and no intensive care unit for their 12,000 population.
Since the state of South Dakota has never adopted a stay-at-home order, both tribes decided to take their own precautions and organized several checkpoints on their land. Right now, people are only allowed to enter the reservations for essential business, after taking a health questionnaire.
In her Friday letter, Gov. Noem called the checkpoints “illegal” and said that “if they don’t come down, the state will take the matter to federal court.”
The chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, Harold Frazier, responded the same day, announcing that the tribe “will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death.”
Frazier addressed Gov. Noem directly, saying that she was “continuing to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate, seriously undermines our ability to protect everyone on the reservation.”
He was joined by the Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner, whose statement claimed that Gov. Noem “threatened the sovereign interest of the Oglala people”.
“Due to the lack of judgment in the planning of preventative measures in response to the current pandemic, COVID-19, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has adopted reasonable and necessary measures to protect the health and safety of our tribal members and our other residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.”
“We demand you to respect our sovereignty. Your threats of legal action are not helpful and do not intimidate us. The only way we can get through this is to work together as a nation.”
So far, Gov. Noem has not filed a lawsuit. A group of 17 Democratic state legislators is currently asking her to reconsider, reminding her that thee ultimatum in itself is illegal. As a letter signed by the lawmakers says, Noem’s statement that tribal governments can not establish checkpoints within the boundaries of their land is inaccurate.
“In order to protect the health of their reservations and as leaders of the sovereign nations that share our borders, Chairman Frazier and President Bear Runner are enforcing the directives given to them by their elected Tribal Council representatives under the authorities established pursuant to the constitutions of their governments which were created under the Indian Reorganization Act adopted by the United States Congress in 1939,” the letter states, according to AG Week.
“As recently as 1990, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the State of South Dakota has no jurisdiction over highways running through Indian Lands in the state without tribal consent. We do not wish to be a part of another lawsuit that will ultimately cost the people of South Dakota more money.”
“We respectfully request that for the safety and well being of all people, and to avoid potential confrontational situations, please reconsider your letters or any proposed action and give us an opportunity to find common ground. We recommend that on a government to government basis you invite duly elected leaders of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe to meet with you and legislative leaders from across South Dakota, to negotiate a resolution that reflects our combined goal of keeping all people healthy and safe.”