PIERRE, S.D. — Gov. Kristi Noem said no lawsuit over tribal checkpoints is in the works as of Tuesday, May 12, she is waiting on a response from Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harold Frazier.

On Friday, May 8, Noem sent a letter to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who have set up health checkpoints on highways coming into their reservations. In the letter, Noem said the tribes had 48 hours to remove the checkpoints or face legal action.

Noem said during a press conference Tuesday that the 48-hour time limit was given Friday because the state “needed a resolution.”

“And that’s why we needed a time frame to get a response,” Noem said Tuesday.

Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute said that he has been getting calls from constituents, both tribal and nontribal, complaining about the checkpoints. Flute, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe, said the state was alerted about the establishment of the checkpoints when they were erected.

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Flute said his invitation to Frazier to participate in a conference call in April to come to a resolution about the checkpoints was declined.

“On April 21, respectfully, the chairman declined. He flat out said he would not join with the state of South Dakota on the conference call,” Flute said during Tuesday's press conference. “I was disheartened.”

Noem said South Dakota’s Congressional delegation has also been receiving calls about the checkpoints.

“This is a sticky situation because we have federal authorities on U.S. and state highways. I recognize that it would take federal action for the law to be upheld but the state of south dakota is leading the COVID response. I have sent further communication to Chairman Frazier today and look forward to a response,” Noem said.

As for direct communication with Oglala Sioux Tribe President Julian Bear Runner, Flute said the state reached out on behalf of a member who was being released from state Department of Corrections custody to see if she could return to the reservation.

“Unfortunately that didn’t turn out the way she had anticipated,” Flute said, adding, “We did reach out to the Oglala Sioux Tribe and we share information with them all the time.”

The Pine Ridge Reservation is in a 72-hour lockdown after two members tested positive for COVID-19. The lockdown is set to expire at noon Wednesday, May 13.

Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said that the state was made aware of the tribe’s two positive cases through media reports, but the cases won’t be added to the data on the state’s COVID-19 website until Wednesday.

Rounds introduces COVID-19 legislation

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., introduced legislation to give state, local and tribal governments more flexibility in using existing COVID-19 relief funds.

South Dakota received $1.25 billion in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act relief funds, but Noem said she wants more flexibility with those funds to help replenish lost sales tax revenue within the state’s budget.

Rounds’ proposed legislation would permit up to 25% of funds allocated to local governments through the CARES Act to cover lost tax revenue, according to a news release.

“Every sector of our economy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Rounds said in the release.

The CARES Act established the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund to help state, local and tribal governments respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

By the numbers

The South Dakota Department of Health on Tuesday, May 12, reported the number of reported COVID-19 cases increased to 3,663. There are 1,315 active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

The number of South Dakotans who have died due to COVID-19 increased by five to a total of 39. One of the deaths was a person in their 30s who had an underlying health condition, officials said.

Active cases increased by 78 since Monday for a total of 1,315 active cases as of Tuesday, May 12. There 74 hospitalizations in the state as of Tuesday, down four since Monday. The total number of people ever hospitalized in the state is 271, up eight from Monday.

A total of 2,309 people have recovered from COVID-19 and the state has conducted 25,197 tests.

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