Photo: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Law Enforcement

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is picking another fight with residents of her state who would very much prefer not to have coronavirus spread out of control in their communities, please. Noem, a Republican, has already refused to let municipal governments issue stay at home orders or other steps to control COVID-19, and has reportedly been urged by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to seek conflict as much as possible in dealing with — or really, not dealing with — the pandemic.

In her latest bid to make sure South Dakota stays as open as possible to widening the infection rate and making America greater, Noem has ordered two tribal governments in the state to take down checkpoints they have set up to limit the chances of infected people coming onto or off their reservations. In a couple of nasty letters Friday, Noem's office told the leaders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe to remove the checkpoints within 48 hours, or the state would take "necessary legal action." Sunday, Noem's office said the state would sue the tribes in federal court to have the checkpoints removed.

Here, have a surprisingly informative CNN report that manages to summarize what's at stake in just 4 1/2 minutes:


The tribal governments are understandably concerned that the South Dakota state government isn't doing anything to protect their people from COVID-19, so they have put in place strict stay at home orders and curfews for all residents of the reservations. Thanks to tribal sovereignty, Noem can't block those orders. In addition, the tribes have set up checkpoints at the points where US and state highways enter and leave the reservations. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's travel rules allow reservation residents to travel to other parts of the state for "essential activities" like doctor's appointments or getting supplies not available on the reservations, as long as those destinations aren't designated COVID-19 "hot spots." When leaving or entering the reservation, residents have to answer a health questionnaire, which is used to screen for potential infection and also to gather data for contact tracing if it's needed later.

Commercial trucks are allowed to pass through the reservation, but South Dakota residents from outside must show that they're traveling for essential activities and not coming from a hot spot. They too have to answer the health questions. Folks from out of state or from hot spots have to get a permit to travel into the reservation, and must agree to follow social distancing rules while on reservation land. Travelers who intend to drive straight through are allowed to go ahead as well.

Noem said in a press release that the tribal governments don't have the authority to restrict traffic on state or federal highways, citing an April 8 guidance from the US Bureau of Indian Affairs that her office included with the letters to the tribal leaders. The BIA memo says tribes can only restrict highway travel after they've consulted and reached agreement with state governments.

In a reply released Friday, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier said that the tribe had "consulted" with state and county officials, and that a federal treaty with tribes gave tribal governments complete authority over who is allowed on and off tribal land, also fuck you Kristi Noem and your refusal to keep people safe, while we're at it:

In late April, Frazier issued a more pointed statement about "consultation" with the state government, saying "We have consulted with the state of South Dakota exactly the way the BIA consults with us."

We like this guy!

In a CNN interview, Frazier has also emphasized that his tribe has too much to risk to be lax about the coronavirus, pointing out that the reservation's only health center is an eight-bed facility that doesn't have an intensive care unit. The nearest hospital able to provide the critical care needed for COVID-19 is three hours away.

In his reply to Noem's ultimatum Friday, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner wrote that the state government's response to the pandemic was "Ineffective as shown by the increasing number of cases in South Dakota," and that the checkpoints were vital to protecting "the lives of our people, including the lives of our elderly tribal members, without whom we cannot pass on our language, culture and traditions."

He also detailed the tribe's frequent consultations with state transportation and health officials, and noted that no state officials had objected to the planned checkpoints before they went into place in April. The first objection he said the tribe had received was Noem's nastygram last Friday. Like Frazier, Bear Runner cited the Fort Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868, and he noted that the state government has no sovereignty over tribal lands. He closed by telling Noem to butt out, please:

We must adopt serious measures to proactively deal with this serious public health crisis. 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 to this is to work together as a nation.

A bipartisan group of 17 South Dakota legislators, several of whom have tribal areas in their districts, also sent a letter urging Noem not to take her fight with the tribes to federal court, and chastising her for not meeting with tribal leaders before delivering the ultimatum.

We could have helped facilitate conversations and given your office unique insight as to the history, culture, protocols, and vernacular of how to work together with Tribal governments. You elected, however, not to contact us and sent an ultimatum to both tribes.

The letter agreed that the Fort Laramie treaties were pretty clear about tribal authority, and warned that the cost of taking the matter to federal court was not a good use of state funds during an already costly pandemic. Instead, they urged Noem to reconsider and to negotiate in good faith, offering to help reach an agreement.

That's awfully nice of them, but for heaven's sake, the tribes are acting in defiance of the governor and seem to think they have some kind of authority on their own reservations. Noem needs to make an example of them, because the only government overreach Republicans object to is the kind that might limit the spread of a disease.

For the sake of ramping up the stupidity, Noem's senior adviser, Maggie Seidel, claimed on Sunday the checkpoints had to come down before there's "violence."

The checkpoints have been "extremely disruptive" and the state fears things will turn violent, she said. "Things have already gotten (verbally) hostile" and this is "uncharted territory," Seidel said when asked why the state is afraid of violence.

Seidel did tell the Rapid City Journal that Noem would be happy to work with the tribal leaders, but "We're not going to negotiate through the press," so maybe reporters need to stay in their lane, too, if they know what's good for 'em.

Monday, Noem said she intended to proceed with a federal lawsuit, although NPR reports it wasn't clear a suit had been filed as of last night.

And in the meantime, the chairman of the largest of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe's seven districts, Delbert "Roly" Hopkins Jr., said yesterday that his district had also up highway checkpoints, after a non-member spread the virus to "nearly a dozen individuals" in his district. He said Noem's Ultimatum to the two other tribes "is unwarranted, and she should communicate with Tribes in a peaceful, non-divisive manner. Let the checkpoints stay until it's safe to remove them."

Gosh, there sure is a lot of trampling of local autonomy going on in South Dakota. We bet the rightwing militias will be demonstrating in Pierre to demand Noem stop oppressing the tribes and denying their sovereignty. Any minute now.

[CNN / Rapid City Journal / CNN / West River Eagle / Rapid City Journal / West River Eagle / Native News Online / NPR]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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