South Dakota Gov. Noem issues new warning to tribes regarding coronavirus checkpoints

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The clash between South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and tribal leaders in the state continued Tuesday over coronavirus checkpoints set up by some tribes on public roadways leading to their lands.

“No one entering or traveling on a U.S. or State highway will be stopped or impeded,” Noem wrote Tuesday evening to Harold Frazier, chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls reported.

Noem’s office shared a copy of the letter with the newspaper, the report said.

SOUTH DAKOTA SIOUX TRIBE REFUSES TO TAKE DOWN CORONAVIRUS CHECKPOINTS DESPITE GOVERNOR'S ULTIMATUM

“No one entering or traveling on a U.S. or State highway will be stopped or impeded.”

— South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

The Republican governor and the tribal leaders have been feuding in recent weeks as tribes have sought to protect residents of reservations from contracting the coronavirus by screening occupants of approaching vehicles.

Both Frazier and the leader of the Oglala Sioux tribe have been critical of Noem’s handling of the outbreak in the state. The governor has opted against mandatory shutdown and quarantine orders, choosing instead to have the state offer safety recommendations and allowing residents to decide for themselves which precautions are best for them.

The governor has argued that government mandates infringe on residents’ personal freedoms.

But the tribes have so far resisted compliance with the governor’s bid to limit the checkpoints.

“We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” Frazier said in a statement last Friday.

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier in a February 2017 file photo. (Getty Images)

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier in a February 2017 file photo. (Getty Images)

Noem addressed the dispute earlier this week during an appearance on "Fox News @ Night," in which host Shannon Bream noted that even some state Republicans have opposed the governor regarding the lack of a stay-home order, with some accusing her of placing her own political ambitions ahead of public safety.

A group of 17 state lawmakers sent the governor a letter Saturday saying they did "not wish to be part of another lawsuit that will ultimately cost the people of South Dakota more money." They said they want a "reasonable, legal and appropriate solution."

"The political attacks are getting predictable and boring," Noem told Bream. "I think overwhelmingly the people of South Dakota knew that I trusted them to make the right decisions, that I gave them strong guidance on what they could do to protect their families."

"The political attacks are getting predictable and boring. I think overwhelmingly the people of South Dakota knew that I trusted them to make the right decisions, that I gave them strong guidance on what they could do to protect their families."

— South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem

Noem’s Tuesday letter expressed support for checkpoints that are set up on roads controlled by the tribes or by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, and requested that accommodations be made for emergency responders and delivery drivers who use those roads, the Argus Leader reported.

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

"We both want what is best for South Dakota and all of its residents (both tribal and non-tribal) in this fight against COVID-19," Noem wrote, according to the paper. "And I believe this is a reasonable pathway forward."

As of early Wednesday, South Dakota has seen 39 deaths attributed to the coronavirus, a tally that ranks among the lowest in the nation, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center of Johns Hopkins University.

 

Fox News' Brie Stimson and Danielle Wallace contributed to this story.