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Mary Annette Pember

Indian Country Today

Julian Bear Runner, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, has been suspended for 30 days and put on a 14-day quarantine by the tribal council, according to Nakina Mills, council representative from the Pine Ridge District.

The Oglala Sioux tribal council made the decision in an emergency meeting Wednesday on the tribe’s Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota.

It is unclear, however, if the council has the authority to suspend the tribe’s president, according to Mills.

“I’ve only been on council for a year and am very concerned about the lack of processes and procedures,” she said.

According to Mills and Karen Eagle, tribal media relations specialist, the tribe's constitution describes a process for removing council members but not one for suspension.

Council member Robin Tapio of the Pine Ridge district made the motion during the meeting to suspend Bear Runner with pay after several members complained of the president’s executive emergency order establishing a 72-hour lockdown order issued Monday. The order prohibited nonessential travel to and from the reservation and put tribal employees, except emergency personnel, on administrative leave.

On Monday, after issuing his executive order, Bear Runner scheduled Wednesday’s emergency council meeting. He was chairing the meeting and was surprised to learn of his suspension, according to Eagle. Vice president Tom Poor Bear took over the meeting after Bear Runner’s suspension and has taken over presidential duties for the time being, according to Mills.

“There was no collaboration or planning that went into the executive order; it caused confusion among council and tribal members. There should have been more warning given,” Mills said.

Mills complained that Bear Runner did not respond to phone calls from council members after issuing the lockdown order on Monday.

The council overturned Bear Runner’s lockdown order but is maintaining a shelter-in-place order, curfew as well as border monitoring.

The council also voted to rescind Bear Runner’s order placing all but emergency tribal workers on administrative leave.

Bear Runner did not respond to telephone requests for comment from Indian Country Today.

His actions, including issuing the emergency executive order and calling for an emergency council meeting, are part of correct tribal constitutional procedure, Eagle said.

“The council voted during a past meeting to authorize him to issue such emergency executive lockdown orders regarding the COVID-19 virus,” she said.

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Bear Runner called for the lockdown in response to news Monday that the tribe had more than 100 positive coronavirus cases, according to Eagle. He was concerned the number of positive cases didn’t reflect a higher number of quarantined tribal members.

“He felt that a 72-hour lockdown would allow our contact tracing team to confirm information,” Eagle said.

The council also placed Bear Runner on a 14-day quarantine after tribal members shared concerns that he had recently traveled outside the reservation, according to Mills.

“We made a motion for him to quarantine as a precaution and for the safety of the community,” she said.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe began offering drive-thru COVID-19 testing on Wednesday in the town of Pine Ridge, in addition to testing by the Indian Health Service, according to Mills.

“Our increased testing ability will help us in containing positive cases and tell us more about what we need to do going forward,” she said.

“This is a scary and confusing time,” Mills said.

The Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes have been at odds with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem over highway checkpoints on reservations as tribes monitor their borders to keep out unnecessary visitors. Noem has avoided ordering social distancing or mask wearing for South Dakota residents, emphasizing ”personal responsibility” instead. Noem has challenged the tribes’ rights to control their borders and ordered them to remove highway checkpoints. 

This story has been updated to show that the council motioned rather than ordered Bear Runner to quarantine.

Julian Bear Runner, Oglala Sioux Tribe president, July 6, 2020, executive order
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Mary Annette Pember, a citizen of the Red Cliff Ojibwe tribe, is a national correspondent for Indian Country Today.

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