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Tensions Remain Between SD Governor, Native American Tribes

The Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge reported two positive cases of COVID-19 this week. (Adobe Stock)
The Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge reported two positive cases of COVID-19 this week. (Adobe Stock)
May 13, 2020

PINE RIDGE, S.D. -- Tension has been building between South Dakota's governor and Native American tribes over the fight against COVID-19. Security checkpoints have been the focal point, but one tribe says other concerns have existed for several weeks.

Gov. Kristi Noem has said she would sue the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe over their refusal to remove security checkpoints on state highways.

Chase Iron Eyes, a spokesman for the Oglala Tribe, said the dispute with Noem runs deeper than the checkpoints.

"Every working South Dakotan and Oglala person is at risk because of faulty logic that is coming from state leadership," he said.

Noem has resisted repeated calls to issue a stay-at-home order for South Dakota. On Tuesday, she said she would issue letters to the two tribes in an effort to resolve the checkpoint issue. She said the tribe's actions prevent the state from getting resources to people in need, but the tribes have countered that they have a sovereign right to protect the health of their members.

Iron Eyes said the checkpoints are key to ensuring that the sometimes-heavy traffic doesn't bring any more chances of the virus spreading on their lands.

"There's a ton of existing traffic that flows between South Dakota and tribal nations," he said. "It's just unquantified, but it's a lot."

This week, the Oglala tribal president issued an executive order calling for an emergency lockdown on the Pine Ridge Reservation until noon today. That's after the tribe announced two positive cases of COVID-19 among its members.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - SD