Tribes: Noem's 'ultimatum' to remove roadblocks threatens sovereignty

Published: May. 8, 2020 at 6:25 PM CDT
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UPDATE, May 10

Some Native American tribal leaders are speaking out against South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem's push remove road blocks on reservation highways.

Oglala Sioux Tribal President Tribal President Julian Running Bear posted a video to the tribe's

on Saturday, saying Noem's "ultimatum" threatens the sovereignty of the Oglala people.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal President Harold Frazier issued a similar statement regarding Noem's announcement, saying the tribe "will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death." He also said Noem's actions are undermining the tribe's ability to protect everyone on the reservation.

The checkpoints were put in place by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe in early April to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Friday, Noem said the tribes did not consult with the state before placing these road blocks, and gave the tribes 48 hours to remove them or the state would take legal action.

Both tribal leaders also denied Noem's claims that the tribes have not worked with the state during the implementation of the road blocks.


Governor Noem has given two South Dakota tribes 48 hours to remove road checkpoints put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The checkpoints were put in place by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe in early April.

According to a press release from Governor Noem's office, the tribes did not consult with the state before installing the checkpoints.

The release goes on to say that if the checkpoints are not removed in the next 48 hours, the state will take necessary legal action.

Governor Noem sent letters to Chairman Harold Frazier of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and President Bear Runner of the Oglala Sioux Tribe demanding that checkpoints be removed from State and US Highways.

“We are strongest when we work together; this includes our battle against COVID-19,” said Governor Noem. “I request that the tribes immediately cease interfering with or regulating traffic on US and State Highways and remove all travel checkpoints.”

On April 8, 2020, the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (DOI) issued a memorandum regarding South Dakota tribal government authority to close or restrict travel on State and US Highways.

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.