GOP Gov. Threatens Native Tribes Over COVID Checkpoints

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South Dakota’s Republican Governor Kristi Noem, who has resisted calls for aggressive action against the Coronavirus outbreak even as state after state have implemented social distancing demands, is now threatening two Native American tribes in her state with legal action over checkpoints that they have set up around their reservations. The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe are “using checkpoints to monitor highway traffic into the reservation,” the local SDPB radio station reports. The Oglala Sioux Tribe promptly closed their reservation’s borders upon the detection of Coronavirus in the state, although local leaders have still been allowing for commercial and essential travel.

Noem countered:

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

The tribes do not appear interested in abiding by Noem’s demand.

SDPB poignantly reports:

‘Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Fraizer says they’re declining the governor’s request. He says the tribe will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death.’

A spokesperson for the Oglala Sioux Tribe added that Noem’s demand supposedly “lacks legal merit,” according to local media, although that same outlet notes that “last month, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said the tribes cannot set up checkpoints without consulting with the state.”

Republican leaders like Noem have largely helped exacerbate the scope of that “sea of uncertainty and death” within the United States. The U.S. is passing the point of 80,000 deaths from the Coronavirus this weekend, and as states have rushed to reopen their economies via lifting social distancing demands, the University of Washington has projected that as many as 134,000 people or more could end up dying in the U.S. due to the virus. President Donald Trump himself has encouraged those dangerous reopening efforts, insisting, for instance, that his followers should “liberate” certain states that have stay-at-home orders in place.

Meanwhile, one Twitter user posted, addressing Noem directly:

‘You need to respect the sovereignty of Tribal Leadership whose only recourse during this time of pandemic is restricting access. Native communities have the least access to healthcare. Elders can’t be replaced.’

Noem has a lot of supporters in right-wing political circles. And on the flip side of that, conservative leaders like Trump have lashed out endlessly against figures who dare to break with the Noem style.

This Saturday, he tweeted angrily:

‘Governor @GavinNewsom of California won’t let restaurants, beaches and stores open, but he installs a voting booth system in a highly Democrat area (supposed to be mail in ballots only) because our great candidate, @MikeGarcia2020 , is winning by a lot. CA25 Rigged Election!’

His claims are, quite simply, nonsense. Opening a polling place in a high population area that didn’t have one is not some kind of anti-Republican scheme. It simply constitutes protecting access to the ballot box for people who have been impacted by the Coronavirus epidemic, which Trump has preferred to ignore.