SD Legislators write bipartisan letter to Gov. Noem, want ‘discussion rather than demands’
SOUTH DAKOTA, — Seventeen members from both parties of the South Dakota legislature say the State of South Dakota has “no jurisdiction over the highways running through Indian lands without tribal consent.”
On Friday, Gov. Noem sent letters to leaders of both the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, demanding that the tribes lift their checkpoints on state roads and U.S. highways at the borders of their tribal lands. Citing a memorandum from the U.S. Department of Interior, the Governor said the tribes have no authority to restrict access to those roads.
In the letter to Noem sent on Saturday, May 9, the legislators, including State Senators Troy Heinert, Red Dawn Foster and Representatives Oren Lesmeister, Shawn Bordeaux, Peri Pourier and Tamara St. John, cited a ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, that showed “the state has no jurisdiction to dictate any actions on roadways that run through Indian lands.”
The representatives wrote Noem, saying, “In order to protect the health and safety of their reservations and as leaders of the sovereign nations that share our borders, Chairman Harold Frazier (Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe), and Julian Bear Runner (Oglala Sioux Tribe), enforcing the directives given to them by their elected Tribal Council representatives under the authorities established pursuant to the constitutions of their governments which were created under the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) adopted by the United States Congress in 1939.”
The letter went on to say that a statement in Noem’s letter about “Tribal governments not possessing the ability to establish checkpoints with the boundaries of their homelands isn’t accurate,” and that, “[t]hese jurisdictional powers were enshrined in both the 1851 and 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaties and have been reaffirmed numerous times through case law, Congress and Supreme Court Rulings.”
According to the letter, Gov. Noem had not contacted the tribes to go over the issue of the checkpoints and instead opted to “give an ultimatum” to both the Cheyenne River Sioux and the Oglala Sioux Tribes.
The letter also said that the “State of South Dakota objects to tribal checkpoints on US and State Highways regardless of whether those checkpoints take into consideration the safety measures recommended by the SD DOT.”
The letter later went on to say, “The legislature has not passed any bills pertaining as such, nor does the State of South Dakota have the authority to enforce State law within the boundaries of a Reservation.”
The representatives ended the letter saying, “We recommend that on a government to government basis you invite the duly elected leaders of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and Oglala Sioux Tribe to meet you and legislative leaders from across South Dakota, to negotiate a resolution that reflects our combined goal of keeping all people healthy and safe.”
According to Governor Noem’s Policy Director and Senior Adviser Maggie Seidel, the legislators’ letter has reached the Governor’s office. Seidel said the State has no issue with the tribes controlling traffic on tribal roads, but that the tribes can’t establish checkpoints on State and U.S. highways.