Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe sues Trump Administration over COVID-19 checkpoints
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is the first to file a lawsuit in the fight over coronavirus checkpoints on reservation land.
The tribe filed a federal lawsuit that names President Donald Trump and several other White House officials in their official capacities for “threatening to take unlawful actions to shut down the Tribe’s Health Safety Checkpoints.” The complaint argues the defendants abused “the power of the federal government, to coerce the Tribe to dismantle” its checkpoints and when that failed, threatened the tribe’s law enforcement contract.
In early April, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe established a COVID-19 response plan to minimize exposure on the reservation given the tribe’s limited hospital capacity. According to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe COVID-19 executive orders, the checkpoints were established at all entry and exit points on the reservation “for the purpose of preventing, tracking, and limiting the transmission of the COVID-19 virus within the exterior bounds of the reservation.”
Governor Noem sent a letter to leaders of the Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes in May urging them to remove the checkpoints from State and U.S. highways or face the legal ramifications. She claims the checkpoints are illegal because the weren’t agreed upon in conjunction with the state and that interstate commerce was being adversely affected. Both tribes refused to budge but two weeks later, the Governor called on the White House for assistance in removing the checkpoints.
The Governor’s office and Cheyenne River Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier exchanged multiple letters throughout the stalemate. However, talks ended at the state level when the Chairman responded to a three-part plan proposal to remove the checkpoints to say it would be “taken into consideration.”
On June 7th, the suit alleges the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other federal officials called Cheyenne River to say “BIA was contemplating emergency re-assumption of the Tribe’s” law enforcement contract. The contract allows a tribe to provide law enforcement on the reservation where it would otherwise be conducted by the federal government.
Days later, BIA sent staff from the Office of Justice Services to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe police headquarters. BIA officials later informed personnel the checkpoint monitors don’t qualify for the Tribe’s law enforcement contract program and the monitors were not allowed to represent law enforcement officers.
Chairman Frazier claims in a June 11 letter sent to Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs of the Department of Interior Tara Sweeney, the monitors were not deputized as police officers and are not paid using the contract funding. Federal officials are said to claim the tribe’s law enforcement officers were not in compliance by not having current background checks for tribal officers and urged Chairman Frazier to take steps toward compliance.
Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe cites the Tribal Law and Order Act in putting the performance of background checks on the Department of the Interior after the tribe requests assistance.
The tribe claims the Department of the Interior “failed to recognize several years of correspondence” and claims that finances were the limiting factor in completing them. The complaint alleges the Department of Interior is seeking to exploit the background check issue to find fault with the law enforcement contract.
To read the full complaint, see below.