Tribal leaders are speaking out against Gov. Kristi Noem's decision to seek federal assistance to remove COVID-19 checkpoints on two South Dakota reservations.
Noem's move "doesn't make sense from a public health perspective," according to a statement the Oglala Sioux Tribe issued Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Noem announced a state investigation found "unlawful" activity at checkpoints at state and federal highways on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River reservations. She said she submitted evidence of this to the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House, and South Dakota's congressional delegation, seeking their assistance in removing the checkpoints.
Chase Iron Eyes, spokesman for Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner and lead counsel for the Lakota People’s Project, penned the tribes response. He stated the United States' response to COVID-19 has been "inadequate" under President Donald Trump leadership, and that instead of challenging him, Noem has "parroted" Trump's talking points.
Noem claims the tribes have been illegally stopping people at the checkpoints, including some essential services. Iron Eyes' letter says "99.9 percent of drivers are allowed to pass through after answering a few questions."
Read Iron Eyes' full letter below
"Governor Noem’s decision to escalate the tension right now over checkpoints doesn’t make sense from a public health perspective. We’re permitting people to pass through our reservations — we’re screening people, according to the best advice from medical experts, not preventing travel. 99.9 percent of drivers are allowed to pass through after answering a few questions.
"The United States now has 33 percent of global deaths from COVID-19, despite having just 5 percent of the world’s population. It should be clear to Governor Noem that Trump’s inadequate response to this pandemic is at the root of our nation’s sky-high death rate. Sadly, instead of challenging him, she has parroted the president’s talking points and policies within her state: an extremely limited stay-at-home order, no suspension of evictions or utility shut offs, no closing of businesses.
"Governor Noem has put 72,000 Native Americans and all others in the state at risk. Our communities are particularly vulnerable to this pandemic, so we must take matters into our own hands to protect ourselves.
"The governor is missing an opportunity to set a positive example of executive leadership. The world desperately needs vision right now among elected officials. Why not help us instead of harassing us?"