The survival of Lakota people is paramount. Corona virus (COVID-19) is a highly contagious sickness. The Oglala Lakota Nation and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe acted quickly to protect their tribal citizens from an outbreak of COVID-19 cases. This happened when both tribes established highway checkpoints on major roads running through their territory. These efforts have kept the total number of COVID-19 cases on each reservation very low, according to the SD Department of Health website.
Those same checkpoints on highways running through Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River made headlines on national news networks as Governor Kristi Noem threatened both tribes with legal action if border crossing points weren’t removed.
Consequently, Rosebud took no action to establish highway checkpoints. Today, the SD Department of Health website shows Todd County has 13 confirmed cases. As of May 12, there have been 5 people who have recovered from COVID-19. There are now 8 active COVID-19 cases on the Rosebud reservation.
It doesn’t take a genius to see the difference in numbers of positive cases; again, the Oglala and Cheyenne River tribes took precautions to protect their people from an outbreak of COVID-19. The efforts of tribal officials on both reservations limited the total number of infections. The state took zero precautions and now there are 3,663 people who’ve contracted the virus, as of May 12.
Governor Noem wants South Dakota open for the inevitable influx of tourists. Vacationers from all over the world are now allowed to visit, mingle and stay here. Tourists are already driving and stopping along interstate 90, as well as numerous highways in this state. For instance, I read a report from an Oglala Lakota person stationed at a checkpoint on a highway leading into the Pine Ridge where a car with tourists was stopped at the border; they were asked to detour around the reservation, which they reportedly did.
The border checkpoints on the Oglala and Cheyenne River roadways are an example of true tribal sovereignty in action. Just because the governor refuses to take adequate precautions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in South Dakota, it doesn’t mean the tribes should blindly follow. Governor Noem basically left all South Dakota counties and cities to fend for themselves in establishing pandemic precautions. So, that left county/city governments to implement their own safety measures; there were no threats from Governor Noem in those cases.
The nine tribal governments must be allowed to assert their authority to make their own decisions regarding COVID-19 precautions. Yet, some tribes don’t believe they have the authority to make their own decisions, even though they are actually on the same political level as states.
Rosebud could have taken the same precautions as Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River by establishing highway checkpoints. It shouldn’t matter what the state dictates; the health of our Lakota people must have absolute priority. Consequently, people who have been exposed to others who have tested positive for COVID-19 are still partying around the Rosebud like nothing is wrong. We’re all at risk.
On every reservation in this country, we have relatives and friends who are on the front lines. These include police officers, health care workers, as well as employees working in grocery stores, post offices, nursing homes and driving delivery trucks. They are doing everything they can to keep us safe. But their efforts are for naught if tribal government can’t make a decision to ensure the safety of all of us.
Many Lakota people are in support of the efforts of OST President Julian Bear Runner and CRST Chairman Harold Frazier. Our ancestors didn’t fight and die for us to be afraid of a federal lawsuit. Prayers for all of humanity for Wicozani.
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