PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The top official at the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs has instructed a tribal chairman that agreement from South Dakota state government is needed to stop non-tribal traffic on US 212.
BIA director Darryl LaCounte sent the letter Friday to Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal chairman Harold Frazier. KELOLAND News has received a copy of the letter.
“I note that the State of South Dakota (“State”) owns US 212 and CRST cannot legally close or restrict travel on US 212 without first consulting with the State as detailed in my memorandum. If the State has not been consulted and has not agreed to the closure of US 212, CRST should immediately reopen the highway for motorists and take the necessary steps to come into compliance with Federal law. To not do so could have serious consequences,” LaCounte wrote in the letter.
The BIA director also noted that CRST law enforcement officers weren’t operating the checkpoints. LaCounte told the tribal chairman that failing to have an authorized law enforcement officer blockading a federal or state roadway may be found to violate numerous federal and state laws.
Frazier responded in a letter Sunday and said he was surprised to learn the BIA director thought state government owned US 212.
KELOLAND News has asked for responses from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal chairman and from state government officials.
The South Dakota Department of Transportation on its 511 traveler-information system meanwhile was still showing ‘disturbance’ areas Sunday morning at locations on highways SD 20, US 212, and SD 34 in the area of the Cheyenne River reservation; and on highways SD 44 and US 18 in the area of the Pine Ridge reservation.
Several tribal governments in the region, including those for the Cheyenne River, Pine Ridge and Standing Rock reservations, have issued more restrictive orders regarding non-essential travel during the COVID-19 crisis than Governor Kristi Noem has for South Dakota.
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Julian Bear Runner sent a letter April 23 to the governor urging her to be more aggressive, including halting plans for construction to start on the privately owned Keystone XL oil pipeline that tribal governments have opposed.
“Please do the right thing by the nine tribal nations of South Dakota — and all the people of your state — and issue mandates to protect their health and keep them safe. If you need any help, advice, or support, please feel free to reach out to me,” Bear Runner wrote.