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Tribes Standing Firm On Checkpoints, SD Plans Federal Lawsuit

Photo courtesy Harold Frazier

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) – South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s 48-hour deadline for the Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes to remove coronavirus checkpoints on state and federal highways has passed and Noem’s office says she will now sue the tribes to get the checkpoints taken down..

Noem had warned the tribes by letter Friday that they had 48 hours to act or the state would take “necessary legal action.” Maggie Seidel, her senior advisory, said yesterday in an email that the checkpoints aren’t legal and the state will take the issue to federal court.

A group of 17 state lawmakers who represent districts with tribal members, land and governments told Noem in a letter sent Saturday and obtained by the West River Eagle that they’re against her request.

They said she could have reached out to them to serve as liaisons before issuing her ultimatum and recommended she set up a 3-way meeting with tribal and legislative leaders to negotiate a settlement the reflects everyone’s goal of “keeping all people healthy and safe”

They added they don’t want to be be “party to a lawsuit that will ultimately cost the people of South Dakota more money.”

Seidel told the Rapid City Journal that the tribes must allow “unobstructed access” to state and federal highways on reservations and that the checkpoints have resulted in non-members of the tribes being turned away with the state receiving complaints from private and commercial drivers.

The heads of both tribes deny the accusation. Cheyenne River Chairman Harold Frazier says his checkpoints aren’t blocking any state or commercial drivers while OST President Julian Bear Runner says non-residents with non-essential business can pass through the reservation, just not visit

Members of both tribes gathered yesterday at the checkpoints in a show of solidarity with border workers and their leaders, who say they have no plan to stop the checkpoints.

Bear Runner responded to Noem’s Friday letter with one of his own, demanding that she respect tribal sovereignty and saying her threats of legal action “are not helpful and do not intimidate us.”

Frazier issued a statement Friday saying the tribe “will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” pointing out that the coronavirus doesn’t differentiate between tribal members and non-members.