Showdown: South Dakota Gov. Battles Sioux Tribe Over Coronavirus Checkpoints

Posted: May 09, 2020 10:25 PM
Showdown: South Dakota Gov. Battles Sioux Tribe Over Coronavirus Checkpoints

Source: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier has rejected an ultimatum from South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem that threatened legal action against the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe if the tribes did not remove coronavirus checkpoints being operated on state and U.S. highways. 

On April 8, 2020, a memorandum issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs made it clear the tribes must consult with the state of South Dakota and enter into an agreement before closing or restricting traffic on state and U.S. highways. According to the governor's office, the tribes have not consulted or reached an agreement with the state to operate independent checkpoints. 

Gov. Noem sent letters on Friday to leaders of the two tribes asking for their cooperation in working with the state to reduce the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus and threatening legal action if the two tribes continued to operate checkpoints on state and U.S. highways. 

"We are strongest when we work together; this includes our battle against Covid-19," Noem wrote. "I request that the tribes immediately cease interfering with or regulating traffic on US and State Highways and remove all travel checkpoints."

In a Facebook post, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier shared a news release informing Gov. Noem the tribe was rejecting the governor's ultimatum. 

"Ignorant statements and fiery rhetoric encourage individuals already under stress from this situation to carry out irrational actions," Chairman Frazier said. "We invite you to join us in protecting the lives of our people and those that live on this reservation. I regretfully decline your request."

According to Frazier, the purpose of the checkpoints is to "save lives rather than save face." Both Sioux tribes report only a single known case of coronavirus infection.

CNN reports essential travel is allowed for reservation residents traveling to areas within South Dakota not deemed to be coronavirus "hotspots" by the state, according to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's social media. Travelers must complete a health questionnaire upon both leaving and entering the checkpoints. Residents of South Dakota must also complete the questionnaire and may enter the reservation only if traveling from a non-coronavirus hotspot within the state and only for essential activities. Other travelers, from a coronavirus hotspot or from outside the state, must first obtain a travel permit from the tribe before entering the reservation. Both the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe have issued strict stay-at-home orders and imposed curfews on their reservations. 

Gov. Noem has been praised by many South Dakotans for her refusal to issue a statewide stay-at-home order in response to the Wuhan coronavirus. According to the governor, the few cases in the state did not warrant a statewide order, and the governor was concerned about trampling on civil liberties

As of Saturday, there were 34 deaths attributed to the coronavirus in the state. 

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