PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KELO) — A post on Monday said all businesses were closed and only essential travel was allowed on the Pine Ridge Reservation, according to the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety’s Facebook page. On Tuesday, a different Facebook post on the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s page said only essential travel was allowed, along with a list of other allowed or prohibited activity but it did not say all businesses were closed. Both posts were termed executive orders by Tribe president Julian Bear Runner.
Buche Foods in Pine Ridge closed at 3 p.m. Monday and was told it could re-open again on Tuesday as an essential business, manager Craig Peterson said.
The Monday Facebook post describe the tribal president’s order as a 72-hour lockdown effective immediately at 2 p.m.
The post below is from the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Facebook page on Tuesday.
The post below is from Monday on Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety’s Facebook page.
The changes in the orders issued by Bear Runner are at least somewhat confusing, said Derrik Janis, who works for radio station KILI based on Porcupine on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Janis said the radio station is working hard to keep residents informed, including quickly providing airtime to tribal leaders when requested.
“Information is the key…,” Janis said. But lately, the radio station hasn’t heard as much about the coronavirus and coronavirus response, he said.
The station has received many calls from listeners asking questions about the recent Facebook lockdown post, Janis said. The station has not been able to provide many updates, he said.
Oglala Lakota County had 100 positive cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the South Dakota Department of Health website. It had 59 recovered cases.
The area hit triple digits for COVID-19 cases over the past several days.
Tribal council member Nakina Mills said she wasn’t aware that Bear Runner was going to issue a lockdown order.
Mills said residents didn’t receive adequate notice of a lockdown and many were confused.
“It was spur of the moment. And me, in my role, that doesn’t sit well with me,” Mills said.
The tribal council was not consulted nor was the tribe’s coronavirus task force before the executive order was issued, Mills said.
Monday night, Mills requested a special tribal council meeting and under tribal ordinances, a meeting can’t be held for two days. A meeting should be held on Wednesday, Mills said.
Some coronavirus action is needed, Mills said, but the task force and council need to participate in the decision.
If a lockdown is issued, then “it needs to be clear and defined,” Mills said.
On Tuesday, she went to get her mail and to a local store, which isn’t something that is typically allowed during a lockdown, Mills said.
Tribal council member Sonia Little Hawk-Weston said Tuesday that a council meeting was expected for Wednesday or Thursday because the council is required to give two days notice of an upcoming meeting.
Rosie Freier owns the Singing Horse Trading Post in Kyle. Freier said the April actions by tribal leaders, which included a check point to close the area to restrict traffic, helped contain the coronavirus pandemic on Pine Ridge.
“I actually think that was a good decision,” Freier said. “That’s the reason why we have so low of cases for so long.”
Still, being closed off to non-essential travel has essentially meant being closed to tourists.
Mills said tourists can’t stop at the Wounded Knee Memorial for example.
Freier is a native German and moved to the area about 25 years ago. Most of her tourists come from Europe. Travel from Europe into the U.S. was banned in mid-March and hasn’t been lifted.
The travel ban and even the Pine Ridge checkpoint has negatively impacted her business “big time,” Freier said.
The tradeoff of lost money to maintaining people’s health is worth it, Freier said.
“All the money in the world won’t bring a life back,” Freier said. And while statistics mention the number of individuals who are recovered from COVID-19, that doesn’t mean all those people are healthy as some have complications, she said.
Janis said this is the heart of tourism season as visitors come for various sites including the Wounded Knee Memorial. Now, there aren’t as many coming, he said.
“(Tourists) spend money and business are losing revenue…,” Janis said.
“It hurts our business big time,” Arlin Whirlwind Horse said of restrictions on non-essential travelers. Whirlwind Horse owns Badland Outfitters, a business that organizes hunting trips, horseback riding trips and similar outdoor activities.
He’s lost summer visitors now, hunters are wondering about the fall hunting season, and he’s not sure what to tell them, Whirlwind Horse said.
“The first time, the main thing was to keep the virus out,” Whirlwind Horse said.
But now, the coronavirus is “already here,” he said. Instead of banning non-essential travel, “let’s educate people,” Whirlwind Horse said.
Residents on Pine Ridge need to wear masks, they need to practice social distance and good hygiene, Whirlwind Horse said.
Freier said she knows many of her fellow business owners are using COVID-19 safety measures.
The public is living with a no shirt, no shoes, no service, requirement in businesses now, it must also learn to observe a mask requirement, Freier said.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the Pine Ridge Reservation population at 19,895. The Bureau of Indian Affairs said the tribe enrollment is about 46,855 members. Not all of the tribal members live on the reservation.
Janis said the reservation has good grocery stores and other businesses so residents do not need to travel out of town to shop for things like groceries. The out-of-town travel by local residents probably helped contribute to the rise in COVID-19 cases, he said.
“I have mixed emotions to the lockdown,” Janis said. “We are the most poverty stricken, poorest places in the state of South Dakota.”
Restrictions not only impact revenue but people’s mental health, Janis said. A new spread of mental health trouble could be created by restrictions, Janis said.
Janis, Freier and Whirlwind Horse said it sounded as if tribal leaders would be meeting again to discuss the COVID-19 restrictions.
Janis hopes that any information will be shared with the radio station so that it can then quickly spread the news.
KELOLAND News attempted to reach Bear Runner by phone and email and left a message at the tribal office on Tuesday.