May 12, 2020

John Harter, DRA Board Chair,, (605) 840-9478
Rebecca Terk, DRA Senior Organizer,, (605) 697-5204 x260

Dakota Rural Action Stands With Tribes in Defending Public Health, Tribal Sovereignty

Last Friday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issued an ultimatum to the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux Tribal Governments to remove public health checkpoints on state and federal highways at the entrance to reservation lands or face legal action from the state. The checkpoints, which have been in place for weeks, have been set up to stop the spread of COVID-19 in areas with sparse and under-equipped medical facilities as well as large populations of susceptible individuals. The checkpoints also assist with contact tracing in case infections do arise.

Installing checkpoints to protect public health, safety, and welfare within their jurisdictional boundaries is well within the rights of sovereign Native nations. Statements by Governor Noem or any other official that attempt to undermine tribal sovereignty and spread misinformation about access to property and emergency services only serve to inflame racial tensions and cause real harm to people and our state as a whole.

Dakota Rural Action respects the efforts of all tribal governments to protect the health, safety, and welfare of citizens, and we support the assertive actions they have taken to stop the spread of COVID-19. “What the tribes are doing is not only applying good common sense but a Constitutional Right to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In the long run, this forward thinking will save the public massive amounts in revenue that can be applied elsewhere, like testing materials,” said John Harter, DRA Board Chair.

We call on Governor Noem to withdraw her ultimatum and to strive for better relationships and actual consultation with Native nations, as well as fostering a better understanding of tribal history, culture, and sovereignty throughout the state.