Oglala Sioux Tribe President Responds to South Dakota Governor Noem's Demand to Remove COVID-19 Checkpoints
Tribe Won't Remove Checkpoints Entering the Pine Ridge Reservation, Says It Must Protect Health and Safety If Governor Won't
May 12, 2020
The Oglala Sioux Tribe's president has a message for South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem: since she won't protect tribal health and saftey, tribes have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.
Chase Iron Eyes, who serves as Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner's spokesperson and as lead counsel for the Lakota People's Law Project, said today that the president's office will not consent to Noem's demand that the tribe remove checkpoints on roads within tribal nations meant to stop transmission of the COVID-19 virus into the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Bear Runner sent a letter to Noem two weeks ago requesting that she take basic actions to limit the viral spread and protect Native American people in South Dakota, and he offered to dialogue with her about those issues. She did not reply, nor did she alter her policies.
"Now Governor Noem says the checkpoints should be subject to consultation and agreement from all sides," Iron Eyes said. "That's the same argument we have made for time immemorial regarding so many instances where our land was stolen. We have consulted local law enforcement officials, and they agree with us. Meanwhile, Governor Noem has not responded to our attempt to dialogue about statewide policy. The bottom line is that we deserve a say in our own public health and safety, and our position is that we are well within our rights as a sovereign nation."
Now, a bipartisan group of statewide lawmakers has challeneged Noem's authority to remove the checkpoints.
Iron Eyes said: “We have a potentially explosive situation here at Pine Ridge and at Cheyenne River. Because South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has failed to mandate common sense protections for tribes and all the people of her state during the COVD-19 pandemic, the Oglala and Cheyenne River nations have taken matters into our own hands. We have set up checkpoints to prevent the spread of COVID-19 onto and within our homelands. Over the weekend, Governor Noem threatened legal action if we do not remove the checkpoints. She has transitioned from a stance that already failed to provide for the public health and safety to a stance that now actively threatens our people.
“Governor Noem’s refusal to issue broad stay-at-home orders, close nonessential businesses and stop utility shut-offs and evictions was bad enough during the pandemic. Her lack of necessary action already led to a viral spike in Sioux Falls that caused hundreds to fall sick. It has led to more than 3,600 positive test cases and 34 deaths in South Dakota as of today’s reporting. Governor Noem is in no position to issue threats. She does not have the law on her side. The governor is failing to protect her own constituents within our jurisdiction, so we will.
“This is not just a public health and safety issue, it is also an issue of tribal sovereignty and international human rights. We have set up checkpoints limiting access to our own tribal nations. No more genocide. We say enough is enough. We will stand to defend our right to live in our homelands, free from tyranny, free from disease. This is life or death situation, and we have a right to life.”
The Lakota People's Law Project operates under the 501(c)(3) Romero Institute, a nonprofit law and policy center.