Tribal members show support at reservation checkpoints
Interior, S.D. — The Pine Ridge Reservation set up checkpoints in early April to ensure the safety of tribal members.
Two or three patrols at a time are stationed around the clock at the border of interior and around the reservation for sometimes as long as 16 hours. Their concern is the safety of the Pine Ridge Reservation as well as South Dakota as a whole during the Coronavirus pandemic. Despite doing what they believe is within their rights as a sovereign nation, the growing controversy and threat of legal action from the Governors office surrounding the checkpoints brought members from the Pine Ridge Reservation together to stand with and show their support for the patrols. All generations were represented, kids, teens, as well as elders, and descendants of famous chiefs. One descendant of Chief Red Cloud, Wambleewin Red Cloud came out to support the patrols and believes the issue is bigger than just the reservation.
“The state of South Dakota, we need to unite as people, not just a tribe and state, because we’re all South Dakotans, you know we’re all here in South Dakota.”
Rules in place let tribal members come and go while restricting travel of all non-tribal members, and this would only prevent them from stopping on the reservation, not from passing through, which member agree with. According to President Julian Bear Runner, this does not affect state services or essential workers and border patrols will not turn these groups away.
“This was asked in the call with Secretary Flute on the 16th, he asked if we were turning away state functions, such as the state office, the department of social services that we have here on the reservation, and then I advised him no,” said President Bear Runner.
The only people not permitted to enter the checkpoints are people showing COVID-19 symptoms and out of state drivers. One young border patrol, Samuel Craven talked of the restrictions and criteria for letting drivers past the checkpoint. Patrols take information from drivers regarding where they have been and where they are going, as well as their license number so patrols at other checkpoints have a heads up on who’s passing through. The checkpoint also consists of a series of questions issued by the CDC to be asked ensuring those entering the reservation are healthy. All in all the process is a short one, and only serves to keep account of those passing through. Craven said,
“As long as they’re passing straight through and they’re not stopping anywhere, we have had some people that do that, they are from South Dakota, but they’re not tribal members. We let them go straight through, or if it’s necessary, we turn them around to go to the highway.”
Ms. Red Cloud said tribal members realize a road block will not stop a virus, but by restricting access, it could prevent a pandemic among the tribe. The reservation has only one positive COVID-19 case, and members attribute the low numbers to the border patrol. Patrols know of at least one instance where they were able to prevent a person with symptoms from entering the reservation who was later confirmed to have the virus. Patrols have also reported being able to stop illicit alcohol and drugs and say the only purpose for the borders is to protect the most vulnerable, not to restrict travel. Supporter and Chief Red Cloud descendant, Pedro Red Cloud said,
“The government’s protecting the United States, shutting off all the borders, the ports. So, we’re just doing the same thing on our land. So, I don’t see no difference.”
For the time being, the President Bear Runner and the council do not intend on removing the checkpoints until the end of the month, in hopes of keeping a reservation pandemic at bay.