Rosebud Sioux Reservation sees jump in COVID-19 cases; won’t hesitate to put up checkpoints again


ROSEBUD, S.D. (KELO) — The dispute over tribal checkpoints in South Dakota between the Native American tribes and Governor Kristi Noem has garnered national and even international attention. Gov. Noem has called on the federal government to get involved.

Tribal leaders say they’re holding checkpoints to protect their people in the pandemic. So how it is working?

Cheyenne River Reservation was the first to have checkpoints. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, of the two counties that make up Cheyenne River, Dewey hasn’t had any cases and Ziebach has only had one case of COVID-19.

The Pine Ridge Reservation in Oglala Lakota County, has had 21 cases overall.

While the Rosebud Sioux Reservation has used checkpoints for a short period of time, they are not in effect now. According to the Department of Health, Todd County has had 23 cases of COVID-19, but the Rosebud Trial Sioux Tribal President says that number is now actually closer to 30 cases on his reservation.

The Rosebud Reservation’s high level of poverty, close living conditions for many and prevalent health issues among Native Americans, including diabetes, have caused cases of COVID-19 here to jump from 18 to nearly 30 in a few days.

Kennecke: How do you account, just community spread? Or what do you think is the reason?
Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux: Community spread primarily, yeah. We still have some people that aren’t listening to our advice on social distancing, wearing a mask and they’re just not cooperating and that’s where we have the problem.

The Rosebud hospital has 25 beds and just two ventilators. Two tribal members with COVID-19 have been flown to hospitals in Sioux Falls and Rapid City.

“At this point, since those hospitals are not overcrowded, or near capacity, we’re sending our sick patients over there,” Bordeaux said.

Gyms at the St. Francis Indian School are set up as isolation and quarantine sties. Out of the $8 billion set aside for tribal governments in the CARES Act, Rosebud is getting $58 million.

“We have plans. We really need that. We have a lot of needs down here—infrastructure needs. It all has to be COVID related, prevention, detection, and response,” Bordeaux said.

Bordeaux says some of the money will go for new ambulances and hiring more police officers. Rosebud’s seven day checkpoints on US Highways 83 and 18 and a few other roads ended last week.

“We have that right and then we work with the state. We let them know the highway patrol, we just don’t do it, because there has to be with commerce coming through. So we try to be as upfront as possible.”

Rosebud Sioux Tribal President Rodney Bordeaux on May checkpoints
Photo Courtesy of Rosebud Sioux Tribe

Bordeaux says the tribe won’t hesitate to put up checkpoints again if needed. But he says what they really need now are more tests. The tribe has used some of its federal funding to order as many as possible.

“We could use as much tests as we can. I say 20,000 easy,” Bordeaux said.

Nine percent of the state’s positive cases are Native American. According to the South Dakota Department of Health, the number of COVID-19 cases on the Rosebud Reservation is expected to peak in mid-June.

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