South Dakota congressmen seek federal guidance on checkpoints

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., speaks with reporters May 19 after a Senate Republican weekly luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Indian Country Today

'We would appreciate it if the Department of the Interior and Department of Justice would look into this matter promptly'

Indian Country Today

South Dakota’s three Republican congressional delegates are calling on the federal government for guidance regarding highway checkpoints the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has put in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Dusty Johnson on Wednesday sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Attorney General William Barr, citing South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s May 20 plea to President Donald Trump for federal intervention.

“We recognize the need to protect the health and safety of tribal members while also allowing for the flow of traffic on state and U.S. highways,” the congressmen wrote. “As is noted in the letter, there remains disagreement about legal authorities in this matter. We would appreciate it if the Department of the Interior and Department of Justice would look into this matter promptly to provide additional guidance to both the state and the tribe.”

Their letter is the latest in a series of developments involving checkpoints established by Lakota tribes in the state in recent weeks.

(Related coverage: South Dakota governor calls on Trump in tribal checkpoint feud)

Noem has said the checkpoints have caused problems for people who are trying to access the reservation for reasons such as ranching or store deliveries.

File photo. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivers the annual State of the State address in the House Chamber at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Pierre, S.D. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP)
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem delivers the annual State of the State address Jan. 14 at the state Capitol in Pierre, S.D. (Erin Bormett/The Argus Leader via AP, File)

The Republican governor has demanded that both the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe remove their checkpoints from federal and state highways, and originally threatened to sue if they didn't comply.

The tribes have said the checkpoints are essential to protecting the health of the people on their reservations, and they plan to use them until they're no longer needed. The tribes say their sovereignty allows them to set up checkpoints anywhere on their land. 

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman has asked Noem to forward the tribe any complaints about his tribe's checkpoints.

(Related coverage: Chairman Harold Frazier talks checkpoints with Indian Country Today)

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