SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Officials from the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe in South Dakota said Gov. Kristi Noem implied in an Aug. 21 news conference in Texas that all nine tribal lands in the state are hotbeds for drug cartels and tribal members are involved.
“That was very disheartening,” said Peter Lengkeek, the chairman of the Crow Creek Tribal Council.
In interviews Friday with KELOLAND News, Lengkeek and two Crow Creek tribe officials cited several statements by Noem on Aug. 21.
“…the vast majority of drugs in the Midwest are coming right through South Dakota on these reservations,” Noem said on Aug. 21. Noem told the audience the cartels are set up in South Dakota too.
Lengkeek said one of the largest fentanyl busts happened within a year and it involved a non-Indian. The same was a true for a drug bust in Sisseton, he said.
“It’s important to know, we’re not trafficking,” Lengkeek said. “Non-Indians play the biggest role in this.”
Noem’s comments about drugs on the reservations are “political pandering with a subtle racial context,” said Roquel Gourneau, who works in communications for the Crow Creek Tribe. The governor knew she was in Texas where the indigenous population can be a point of controversy, so she used that to her political advantage, Gourneau said.
Tribal council member Kyle Loudner said drugs enter his reservation from several areas including Sioux Falls. Noem did not mention Sioux Falls during the Aug. 21 news conference and that’s telling, Loudner said.
Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead has said in several interviews with KELOLAND News and in news conferences since at least 2017 that drugs enter the Sioux Falls area from Mexico and drug cartels are involved.
The tribal officials also took issue with Noem’s statements about President Joe Biden’s funding federal law enforcement who work on tribal lands.
“Joe Biden is under-funding their tribal law,” Noem said on Aug. 21. Noem also said that “they” are not coming to reservations and enforcing the law.
“It’s not a matter of underfunding,” Gourneau said. Federal positions will be funded but they can’t always be filled, she said. Just like other law enforcement departments in the U.S, or school districts with teacher shortages, it can be hard to fill open positions, Gourneau said.
The three officials said they’d like the governor to share facts with the public and the nine tribal lands. What facts or information does Noem have to support her statements on Aug. 21, they asked.
Gourneau and Loudner said Noem may not have jurisdiction over tribal lands, but if she is specifically concerned about drugs on tribal lands, she has a role.
Loudner said the governor is in charge of the state highway patrol, so she could increase enforcement to stop drug trafficking on state highways, for example.
Gourneau said Noem should be speaking with Sen. Jon Thune, Sen. Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson about her concerns. Noem should also be speaking with the Department of Justice and Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal agencies that work on tribal lands in South Dakota to advocate to address her described problem, Gourneau said.
Lengkeek said he’d like facts and more information from Noem related to her Aug. 21 news conference comments.
He doesn’t expect to get that information. Nor do Loudner and Gourneau.
KELOLAND News has contacted Noem’s communications staff with several questions. The story will be updated if the staff responds.