Tribe: Governor ban shouldn’t affect flood help

The Oglala Sioux tribe says its tense relationship with Gov. Kristi Noem shouldn’t affect its request for state aid to recover from severe spring flooding on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The tribe last week bluntly told the governor to stay away from its reservation because of her support for what the tribe views as suppression of oil pipeline protests.

Gov. Kristi Noem said this week she remains committed to tribal causes, though she also has said the ban “has changed the dynamic a little bit as far as me being welcome there.”

Gov. Noem visits Pine Ridge following flooding in March 2019.

A lack of resources to deal with severe spring flooding and the dispute that has evolved over anti-protest legislation are separate issues, a spokesman for tribal President Julian Bear Runner said.

“We can’t just lay down” on either issue, Chase Iron Eyes said.

With the anti-pipeline protest laws quickly pushed through by the Republican governor and GOP leaders in the waning days of the Legislature, the tribe sees an effort to muzzle their belief that fossil fuels are fostering a global climate change crisis — one evidenced by the recent devastating spring flooding .

Heavy snow and a rapid melt trapped hundreds of people in their homes, damaged or destroyed hundreds of miles of roads and dozens of buildings and disrupted water supplies to thousands on a reservation about as big as Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

The tribe faces a colossal rebuild that will require not only federal aid but also state help to accomplish. Damage estimates are still being compiled, but the total could be “in the tens or scores of millions,” Iron Eyes said.

He said the tribe asked Noem for mostly non-monetary assistance such as National Guard or other state resources to aid with rebuilding thousands of miles of dirt roads.

The tribe hasn’t gotten a response, and Noem’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. However, Noem recently told reporters that she wants to resolve the reservation ban dispute so she can work with the tribe on various projects and “resources that they’ve asked me for.” She also noted that the state helped with the immediate flood response on the reservation.

“As soon as they asked, we had National Guard members down there delivering clean drinking water to several communities,” said Noem, who traveled to the reservation during the height of the flooding. “We had task forces deployed down there with equipment and individuals on water rescue and helping individuals get out of dangerous situations.”

A little more than a month later, the Tribal Council voted 17-0 to tell Noem she’s no longer welcome.

The move is in response to legislation that allows officials to pursue money from demonstrators who engage in “riot boosting” or encouraging violence during a protest. Activists and American Indian tribes have been planning on-the-ground protests against the Keystone XL pipeline if it’s built, similar to Dakota Access pipeline demonstrations in North Dakota in 2016 and 2017 that resulted in 761 arrests over six months and cost the state $38 million to police.

Bear Runner took part in those protests and was convicted of criminal trespass and engaging in a riot. He received a year of probation and no jail time for the two misdemeanors.

Noem told reporters that she’ll respect the tribal edict but that she also wants to resolve the situation quickly and is “hoping that the president will change his mind and be willing to work with me to help face some of the challenges that the tribe has.”

Iron Eyes said the tribe does not construe the statement to mean that dropping the ban would help ensure state support. He called Noem “our neighbor” and said the ban is simply meant to show her the tribe’s displeasure, not to banish her forever.

Tribal schools get some state education aid but most direct aid is federal money, Iron Eyes said.

Noem told reporters that before the ban she traveled to the reservation several times talking with tribal members about how the state can help with various matters including youth issues and violence-free zones.

“The state has been very actively engaged in helping these communities in Pine Ridge and throughout the Oglala Sioux reservation and the tribe,” she said. “So I’m hopeful that that relationship can continue.”

Categories: Local News, South Dakota News