Standing Rock Chairman encourages cooperation with state after year of COVID tension
PIERRE, S.D. — In the annual “State of the Tribes” address, this years speaker, Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Mike Faith, encouraged cooperation between Native Americans and the state government. Faith spoke of economic benefits that cooperation could bring, and stressed the need for partnerships on things like infrastructure improvements.
“I wanna mend fences, I wanna make partnerships…it’s time to put differences aside – and we can do that – we just have to understand each other. We’re no different than the next-door neighbor. We can help each other for a better economy, better understanding, better education…but we have to be willing to do that,” he added.
2020 was a contentious year between South Dakota’s nine tribes and Governor Kristi Noem, with both sides having different ideas about how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Native Americans make up only nine percent of the states population, yet account for roughly 14% of coronavirus deaths, according to data provided by Johns Hopkins University researchers.
Governor Noem challenged tribal checkpoints from the Oglala Lakota and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes early in 2020, citing a U.S. Dept. of the Interior memo requiring tribes to only close or restrict access, “after the tribe has consulted and reached an agreement addressing the parameters of the temporary road closure or restrictions.” In a letter to then-Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner, Noem stated that if the checkpoints were not removed within 48 hours, the State would take legal action.
“If we allow checkpoints to shut down traffic in this situation, then we are setting precedent for that to happen far into the future in many other situations as well,” Noem said at the time.
Neither the Oglala Sioux or Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes dismantled their checkpoints in response to the governor’s letter. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier stated that state and commercial functions were not affected, while Bear Runner responded that “no non-tribal roads” were closed.
Faith did not address the situation with Governor Noem specifically, but did say that her Secretary of the Department of Tribal Relations, David Flute, was an important partner to the tribes.