Remove checkpoints on SD and US highways or face legal action, Noem tells two tribal leaders

Capitol News Bureau

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 18, 2020 file photo, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, left, updates media on the COVID-19 pandemic during a press conference at Monument Health in Rapid City, S.D. Gov. Noem on Monday, April, 6, 2020, doubled down on her effort to allow non-essential businesses in South Dakota to stay open through the coronavirus crisis despite calls for more action.The Republican governor did dial up the pressure on businesses and people particularly at-risk of hospitalization to limit the spread of infections. (Jeff Easton/Rapid City Journal via AP, File)

SUNDAY UPDATE: Dewey County Sheriff Les Mayer said via a Facebook message Saturday night that a photo sent with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s official statement Friday didn’t accurately depict the situation. The photo showed a pickup truck with the logo ‘Dewey County Sheriff.’ 

“The Dewey county Sheriff’s office is not assisting in the checkpoints. The tribe used one of our vehicles because theirs quit working. In the interest of safety for the traveling public we allowed them to use an old unit so they had red and blue lights at their checkpoint,” Mayer’s message said. 

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem sent letters Friday to the elected heads of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, telling them they had 48 hours to take down traffic checkpoints on the US and state highways at the edges of their reservations, or face legal action.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier in turn said he wanted to speak with tribal council members before publicly commenting. He didn’t indicate any willingness to lift the checkpoints that went up as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know a lot of people are getting antsy,” Frazier said in a midday radio broadcast. He said people need to stay strong.

“I just don’t see any time soon when we would start going back,” Frazier said, adding that it remains important for the tribal government to “stay the course.”

Frazier later issued a statement that said, in part: “Many have been inconvenienced by the current situation but the virus does not differentiate between members and non-members. It obligates us to protect everyone on the reservation regardless of political distinctions. We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death.”

Noem cited an April 8 memorandum issued by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The memo makes it clear that tribes must consult with the state of South Dakota and enter into an agreement with the state before closing or restricting travel on State or US Highways. Neither consultation nor agreement among the tribal and state government occurred.  Regardless, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe established checkpoints on State and US Highways to control and restrict non-tribal member travel,” Noem’s letter said.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation on its 511 traveler-information system meanwhile was still showing ‘disturbance’ areas Friday afternoon at checkpoint 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.

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