Eye on KELOLAND: Views from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe


From defending controversial checkpoints to removing Mount Rushmore, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has its views and opinions. However, the tribe has one goal during this global pandemic.. and that is to keep everyone safe.

On June 29th, Chairman Frazier sent out a statement about removing presidential faces carved into the Black Hills. Part of it reads, “This brand on our flesh needs to be removed and I am willing to do it free of charge to the United States, by myself if I must.”

“When Mount Rushmore was created back then, I can only imagine there was no communication with the tribes or people throughout South Dakota. I feel that there should’ve been, there should have been consultation. Based on the treaties and our creation stories, the Black Hills belonged to the Sioux Nation,” Chairman Frazier said.

In Rapid City, Keystone and other parts of the Black Hills, hundreds of protesters want people to know that the Black Hills are sacred land. While Chairman Frazier believes in people using their right to protest, he knows the world is in a health crisis.

He has not participated in the protests recently.

“Health and safety are one of the greatest things. I’ve got values that I believe in, but I have to stay humble because we’re basically in a time of crisis with this pandemic going on so it’s important for us to try to stay home and take care of and keep everybody safe,” Chairman Frazier said.

The city of Eagle Butte, which is right inside of the Cheyenne River Reservation, has a population of about 1,300 people, while the entire reservation has over 12,000.

At this time the reservation had a total of 52 positive COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began. Danette Serr is the Director of Nursing for the CRST Fieldhouse.

“We’ve been busy with contact tracing and studies and making sure people are quarantined and getting general public tested. So we’ve had a lot of mass testing events throughout the communities,” Serr said.

Checkpoints surrounding the reservation were put into place at the beginning of April. They consist of a series of health questions like: have you had a fever or dry cough recently? Are you coming from an area with positive COVID-19 cases?

People can also apply for a travel permit before passing through the reservation.

Serr believes the checkpoints are helpful.

“They help us with the tracking and the tracing. We can tell where people have went and if they follow the permit process that makes our life a little bit easier because we have contact information also,” Serr said.

The checkpoints stirred controversy with state and federal governments that even lead to a lawsuit. Governor Kristi Noem spoke on the tribal checkpoints in May.

“And remember with every action that we take and that the tribes take, they are setting precedent so we can’t just look at this situation in a virus and a pandemic. If we allow checkpoints to shutdown traffic in this situation, then we are setting precedent for that to happen far into the future in many other situations as well,” Governor Kristi Noem said.

Frazier stands for continuing the checkpoints especailly after learning more about how COVID-19 spreads.

“I feel that these checkpoints have been very very useful and they are working. I feel that if they weren’t there that we wouldn’t be enjoying today so they are a key part of everything that we are doing to try to keep everyone safe and healthy on the reservation,” Chairman Frazier said.

Also because he believes it is the tribe’s right.

“Regardless of who’s maintaining these roads and these highways, this is still our land, this is still reservation land and we still have full authority to do what we are doing,” Chairman Frazier said.

Frazier also believes there may be common ground in all of the controversy surrounding our world today.

“I think it’s important that when we move forward whether it’s federal government or tribal government, we need to stay in communication and try to work together. We are all here, we are going to be here for a long time so it’s important that we get to know each other and that we talk,” Chairman Frazier said.

So whether or not people believe certain things, all that matters to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is that their people are safe.

Click here to checkout the application process for travel permits through the Cheyenne River Reservation.

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