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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The head of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said Wednesday the tribe's sovereignty allows it to operate checkpoints anywhere on its reservation, and he asked South Dakota's governor to forward it any complaints about their operation.

Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier told Gov. Kristi Noem in a brief letter that the tribe would consider her request to restrict checkpoints to tribal roads. 

But he made it clear to The Associated Press that he believes the tribe’s sovereignty allows it to have checkpoints anywhere on the roughly 4,270-square-mile Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. The checkpoints are essential to protecting the health of the people on the reservation, he said.

“This is our home, and this is our land,” Frazier said. “One does not come into somebody’s house and tell them how to live.”

The Republican governor demanded that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe remove the checkpoints from federal and state highways, calling them illegal. The tribes began monitoring their borders last month in an effort to stop unnecessary visitors who could be carrying the coronavirus.

(Related converge: South Dakota holds off on threat to sue)

Also Wednesday, another South Dakota tribe set up checkpoints.

A growing number of positive coronavirus cases has caused the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to adopt drastic measures, including checkpoints on federal and state highways that travel through tribal land. 

President Rodney M. Bordeaux reported that the tribe has 14 coronavirus cases on the reservation. The tribe will implement a reservation-wide lockdown starting at 12 a.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Sunday that includes limited business hours. It’s unclear how long the checkpoints will be up, but commercial traffic will be allowed through and drivers will be encouraged to not stop within the county. 

“I had hoped that this would not be necessary,” Bordeaux said. “Unfortunately, there are too many people in our community who refuse to take precautions of social distancing and the wearing of masks in public and also refuse to self quarantine or take any of this seriously.”

Noem on Friday threatened to sue the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe if they didn’t disassemble the road checks. But this week, she tried a different tack, offering to meet if they would consider limiting the checkpoints only to tribal roads.

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South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

Noem’s spokesman, Ian Fury, said Wednesday that her office would respond to Frazier’s letter “at the appropriate time.”

The governor said Tuesday that she planned to send a similar letter to the Oglala Sioux Tribe. The tribe did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Noem’s actions. 

The governor said her administration has received complaints about the checkpoints and they have caused problems for people who are trying to access the reservation for reasons such as ranching or store deliveries.

A sign sits along a highway leading toward the Pine Ridge Reservation at Kadoka, S.D. (Photo by Baxter Hogen)

Frazier asked the governor to forward any complaints her office receives to the tribe, but he said he thinks she is exaggerating the problem. He said he has visited some of the nine checkpoints the tribe set up and it takes less than two minutes for drivers to pass through them. Ambulances would also be allowed through without having to stop, he said.

(Related coverage: South Dakota tribes stand firm behind checkpoints)

The tribes have criticized the governor for not issuing sweeping stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Amid concerns that Native Americans could be particularly vulnerable to the disease, tribes across the country have monitored their borders and mandated testing for all members.

Frazier said mass-testing is the kind of help he would welcome from the state, but right now the tribe has only 18 test kits, sparking concerns that the virus could already be spreading undetected on the reservation.


Indian Country Today contributed to this report.