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Sioux tribe rejects South Dakota governor's request to remove coronavirus travel checkpoints

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe rejected South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem's request that the tribe remove coronavirus traffic checkpoints from state and U.S. highways. Noem on Friday sent letters to both the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe demanding the checkpoints be taken down within 48 hours or they would face legal action.

"We are strongest when we work together; this includes our battle against COVID-19," Noem said Friday. "I request that the tribes immediately cease interfering with or regulating traffic on U.S. and State Highways and remove all travel checkpoints."

The letters sent to the tribes claimed they had violated the terms of a memo sent by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on April 8, which said the tribes could close roads, "after the Tribe has consulted and reached an agreement addressing the parameters of the temporary road closure or restrictions." 

"At a minimum, this should include identifying points of contact for each road owner, who is allowed in, as well as ensuring that emergency and other essential services can access affected areas," the memo continued.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier responded to the governor with a statement, saying, "The English definition of consultation is "a meeting with an expert or professional, such as a medical doctor, in order to seek advice." In the Lakota language, wóglakA means "to speak about something." In meeting with county commissioners, municipal, South Dakota Department of Transportation, Public schools and Federal agencies we have met the definition of consultation in both of our languages."

"We have not stopped any state or commercial functions as you claim in your request," Frazier added in the statement.

"I absolutely agree that we need to work together during this time of crisis, however you continuing to interfere in our efforts to do what science and facts dictate seriously undermine our ability to protect everyone on the reservation," the statement said. "Ignorant statements and fiery rhetoric encourage individuals already under stress from this situation to carry out irrational actions."

"The purpose of our actions is to, 'save lives rather than save face,'" Frazier concluded.

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