In hopes of minimizing the spread of coronavirus in their community, the Cheyenne River Sioux have established a series of checkpoints on state highways that run through tribal reservations in South Dakota. As Truthout explains:
Commercial drivers and South Dakota residents are being allowed to travel on tribal lands, but non-state residents are only allowed entry onto the reservations if they can provide proof of tribal membership or proof that they live there. Non-state residents are also being banned from hunting or fishing on tribal lands.
These, of course, are far more active measures than anything that South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has done so far in this pandemic. And this clearly made her upset, or possibly embarrassed, because she wrote a letter to tribal leaders stating:
I request the Tribe immediately cease interfering or regulating traffic on U.S. and State Highways and remove all travel checkpoints. If the checkpoints are not removed within the next 48 hours, the State will take necessary legal action.
Under normal circumstances, there may be a valid argument about what some would consider the vigilantism on display here. However, when it comes to Native American land rights and legal jurisdictions, things get complicated. But they've been putting up with this shit for a while now, and many of them have a keen understanding of how things with the US government — namely, that it won't do shit to help them, except when it wants something, which usually ends up hurting the members of the tribe. For example: when a few economic stakeholders want a pandemic to continue spreading through poverty-stricken communities just so they can keep their wallets fat.
Or, as Oglala Sioux Tribe spokesman Chase Iron Eyes said:
We’d be interested in sitting down (with Gov. Noem) to learn the legal, theoretical bases for (her) aggressive assertions. They can sit down and talk with us like human beings, but they don’t do that. They threaten us with violence or legal charges.
Julian Bear Runner, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, echoed this sentiment on Facebook, asserting that, "We have an inherent and sovereign right to protect the health of our people, and no one, man or woman, can dispute that right."
But my personal favorite response to Gov. Noem's demands came from Cheyenne River Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier. Citing Article 16 of the Fort Laramie Treaty, which grants the tribe the right to regulate who can or cannot enter their jurisdictions, Frazier said:
You continue to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation. Ignorant statements and fiery rhetoric encourage individuals already under stress from this situation to carry out irrational actions.
17 members of the South Dakota State Legislature have also spoken up against Governor Noem's threats of forcing the federal government to … not let Native Americans protect themselves from a pandemic that the federal government has failed to rein in.
South Dakota Governor Aims to Force Tribal Leaders to Ease Stay-at-Home Orders [Chris Walker / Truthout]
Sioux tribe rejects South Dakota governor request to remove Covid-19 checkpoints [Chris Boyette and Deanna Hackney / CNN]
Image: Pax Ahimsa Gethen / Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)