In advance of President Trump’s visit to South Dakota for a July 3 fireworks event at Mount Rushmore, the Cheyenne River, Oglala, and Rosebud Sioux Tribes are telling his administration to respect tribal sovereignty. The event, which could draw large crowds, is planned just as COVID-19 cases rose to their highest levels since the outbreak began in the U.S.
The three tribal nations have taken aggressive measures to combat the spread of the virus in their communities, including shelter-in-place orders and highway checkpoints at their reservation borders to conduct health screenings and limit travel if needed. The tribal nations also have enacted measures for contact tracing and established quarantine sites.
“In a time of crisis, where more than 127,299 Americans have died, the president is putting our Tribal members at risk to stage a photo-op at one of our most sacred sites,” said Harold Frazier, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “This is an administration that has not only mishandled the federal government’s response to the virus from the start, but has attempted to trample on our rights as a sovereign nation to conduct safety checks at our boundaries. We will not allow this administration or anyone to interfere with our right to take measures to protect our people.”
On June 23, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe filed suit against President Trump, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Department of the Interior, and various White House officials. The suit shows how the Trump administration has interfered with Cheyenne River’s rights as a sovereign nation and taken retaliatory measures in an attempt to force the Tribe to eliminate the checkpoints, including threatening COVID-19 and police funding. The Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux have both voiced their support for Cheyenne River and the lawsuit.
“We are more than three hours from the nearest critical care facility,” said Julian Bear Runner, President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. “To expose our people to the virus would be devastating. And for our more vulnerable members who have underlying medical conditions, COVID-19 is far more deadly. We make no apologies for wanting to enact the most aggressive measures possible to protect our members. These are our families, our elders, our friends, our community, and they deserve protection. Since, the federal government is not doing its job—we will.”
The Tribes note that they are not the first governments to take stricter measures than the federal government to address the COVID-19 pandemic. And at the time of the filing, Cheyenne River had only had 6 cases of COVID-19, each of which can be traced to entries through the Tribe’s Health Safety Checkpoint informational system.
“You see what they’re doing at the state level in places like Washington state, New York and California to be proactive in slowing the spread,” said Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “Our tribal governments also have rights, and obligations to our people to protect them. Apparently, the administration wants to punish Tribes for that. We will not stand by and let that happen.”
The July 3 event with fireworks and a fighter jet flyover could draw large crowds, another reason the Tribes say that checkpoints and aggressive measures are needed.
“It’s incredible that this administration is playing with our lives for a photo-op,” said Frazier. “Especially after members of the president’s own advance team and Secret Service tested positive following his irresponsible Tulsa rally. Now he’s hosting an over-the-top fireworks display in our sacred Black Hills, while he doles out retribution against our Tribal governments. And for what? For doing what he failed to do—protecting people from a deadly virus.”