Health Race

South Dakota Sioux Tribes Refuse to Remove Checkpoints Despite Governor’s Threats

The Oglala Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have refused to remove their coronavirus checkpoints on roads passing through their reservations after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem threatened to take them to federal court if the checkpoints remain in place. The two tribes argue that the checkpoints are the only way to prevent a potentially devastating COVID-19 outbreak in their communities, which have limited healthcare facilities.

Tribe leaders erected the checkpoints to limit the spread of COVID-19 by controlling who comes and goes from their reservations. Residents must complete health questionnaires when passing through a checkpoint and may only travel for essential activities and locations that have not been identified as coronavirus hotspots. The Oglala Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have also both issued stay-at-home orders and established curfews, measures to reduce the virus’s spread that Noem has not implemented for the state.

Tribe leaders argue that their communities are not equipped to respond to a coronavirus outbreak and that the checkpoints are their best preventative tool. The Cheyenne River Sioux reservation has just one eight-bed healthcare facility for a population of 12,000, and that facility has no intensive care unit. “The nearest health care, critical care is three hours away from where we live,” said Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier.

Last Friday, Noem issued a statement threatening that her office would “take necessary legal action” if the two tribes did not remove the checkpoints within 48 hours. When tribe leaders refused to do so, Noem issued another statement claiming that the checkpoints are illegal and that she would seek intervention from a federal court if the checkpoints remain in place. In response, a group of South Dakota legislators sent a letter to the governor urging compromise and arguing that the state does not have jurisdiction over roads passing through reservations.

“We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” said Frazier in his response to Noem’s statement.

 Sources: BBC News 5/11/20; CNN 5/11/20