PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said Tuesday in a teleconference with reporters that she’s heard from some tribal council members but hasn’t spoken with Oglala Sioux Tribal President Julian Bear Runner about being banned from the Pine Ridge reservation.
Noem, a Republican, said the May 1 ban was “a big surprise to me.” It came in response to her working with Republican state legislators in March to pass two pipeline measures in three days, weeks after the normal deadline for bill introductions.
The Pine Ridge reservation covers Oglala Lakota County and the southern half of Jackson County. It has been difficult territory for Republicans. Oglala Lakota’s voter registration as of May 1 was 5,534 Democrats; 1,909 independents and no-party affiliation; and 525 Republicans.
Last November, Democratic candidate Billie Sutton received 2,778 votes and Noem 214 in Oglala Lakota County. Her 7 percent was the smallest for either major candidate in any of the 66 counties. Noem won statewide 51 to 48 percent.
Voters on the Pine Ridge reservation also showed their independence when they changed the county’s name to Oglala Lakota in 2014, with 2,196 in favor and 531 against. It previously was Shannon County, named for a chief justice of the Dakota Territory Supreme Court.
The 1861 Fort Laramie treaty designated all of Dakota Territory’s land west of the Missouri River as the Great Sioux Reservation. But settlers pushed into the area and the area was divided into counties. Now there are five reservations spread across the west-river area, while much of the land is in private ownership.
The tribal council voted 17-0 to ban Noem because of her stand regarding the pipeline legislation. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the two new laws.
Noem defended the pipeline measures, saying Keystone XL’s proposed route doesn’t cross any reservation or tribal land in South Dakota. She said tribal officials testified at the joint hearings on the pipeline bills. She said she wanted to protect counties and local governments from potentially big expenses.
Those comments however don’t reflect tribal people’s perspective that all of the land west of the Missouri River should still belong to them regardless of what current federal law says. From that viewpoint, Keystone XL travels entirely through tribal territory.
The pipeline would enter northwestern South Dakota from Montana, going through Harding County and continuing diagonally south through Butte, Perkins, Meade, Pennington, Haakon, Jones, Lyman and Tripp counties, then going into Nebraska.
In his letter, President Bear Runner said, “Your newly fabricated, unconstitutionally vague notion of ‘Riot Boosting’ is being litigated against and will not stand. We are particularly offended that you consulted TransCanada before introducing these bills but failed to consult the Oglala Sioux Tribe, or any of the sovereign bands of the Sioux Nation, though our treaty lands would be traversed and endangered by the Keystone XL Pipeline.”
Noem told reporters she also wanted to protect citizens from acts of violence, such as what happened in North Dakota along an oil pipeline’s construction route.
Several tribal governments responded to the South Dakota legislation’s passage by saying they didn’t want tribal flags to be shown in the Capitol rotunda in Pierre. Noem had announced the tribal-flags display on Native Americans Day during the 2019 session.
Noem said she hasn’t visited the Pine Ridge reservation since the ban was announced. “I respect tribal sovereignty. I typically don’t go where I’m not welcome,” she told reporters. She added, “I would ask that all of state government be welcomed there.”
Noem said President Bear Runner could visit her Capitol office at any time. She said she met several times with the Oglala Sioux Tribe’s emergency services manager and was on the Pine Ridge reservation when South Dakota National Guard delivered drinking water and during rescues. She said she’s also attended other meetings on the reservation since taking office in January.
Noem declined to identify the people with whom she’d been working. “I’m certainly not going to disclose their names on a press call,” she said. She added, “I think the initial outreach was them (tribal council members) to us.”
The call lasted about 20 minutes.