Native American tribal nations take tougher line on COVID-19 as states reopen
BY JAMES BIKALES – 06/21/20 09:10 AM EDT
Native American tribal nations are imposing stricter lockdown and social-distancing measures than their neighboring states, creating tensions with both governors and the federal government. Many Native American leaders are worried that the recent surge in cases could disproportionately impact tribal members, just as they did in April and May. In response, some tribal governments have exercised their sovereignty to reinstate lockdowns and travel bans as neighboring states move in the opposite direction.
“It’s a greater challenge for us to deal with knowing that just right across the borders, everyone else is doing things different,” Cheyenne River Sioux chairman Harold Frazier told The Hill. “It makes it a lot tougher for us to implement the actions that we feel we need to do to keep our residents safe here on the reservation,” he said.
South Dakota, where Frazier’s reservation is located, never imposed a statewide stay-at-home order. In April, both the Cheyenne River and the Oglala Sioux tribes installed checkpoints on the roads into their reservations, drawing the ire of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), who threatened a lawsuit in May but never followed through. Later that month she asked President Trump to intervene.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is now threatening to withdraw law enforcement funding if he does not remove the checkpoints, Frazier said.
But with only eight hospital beds on the reservation and the nearest critical care facility three hours away, Frazier said he plans to keep the checkpoints in place until there is a vaccine, fighting the government in court if need be. “We have to,” he said. “I mean, what’s our alternative? Death.”
The Bureau of Indian Affairs did not respond to a request for comment…