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South Dakota Tribes Face Off Again With Governor Kristi Noem

Above photo: Demonstration over anti-protest legislation. NDN Collective.

South Dakota—Last week, while signing two education bills Governor Kristi Noem made comments about wanting to improve Native American students’ achievement, and blamed parents and Tribal leaders for their poor performance. Gov. Noem also said that some Tribal leaders in the state were in partnership with Mexican cartels, and four Tribal Nations have responded demanding an apology.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST) issued a statement saying, “Last week while visiting Mitchell and Winner, South Dakota, Governor Noem used those events as an opportunity to spew hateful gossip about Native people. This is the second time that she has used her platform to spread vicious lies about Tribal people including their leadership.”

The South Dakota Spotlight reported that Governor Noem responded to a question while signing the bills of what her next steps were and mentioned that she was only “as good or doing as good as job as the worse suffering in the most” in state. Noem then went to say: “My next step would be to do what I can to get a tribe to participate with me to help their kids be more successful. Because they live with 80% to 90% unemployment. Their kids don’t have any hope. They don’t have parents who show up and help them. They have a tribal council or a president who focuses on a political agenda more than they care about actually helping somebody’s life look better.”

This isn’t the first clash between Governor Noem and tribal leaders though. Earlier this year, tribal leaders and South Dakota’s tribally enrolled state legislators condemned comments Noem made about Mexican cartels infiltrating the state’s reservations during a speech in late January. While public safety is important to Tribal Nations, mentioning that the Tribes are in partnership with international criminal organizations is hurtful and disrespectful.

“It is with great disappointment that the Oglala Sioux Tribe once again has to respond to inflammatory and disparaging remarks about our reservation communities and tribal leadership made by Governor Kristi Noem,” said Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out in a press release on March 18. Star Comes Out also pointed out that the State’s high-trafficking area is in Sioux Falls, and not on tribal lands.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) sued the federal government in July 2022 for inadequate law enforcement on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, citing the “Bad Men Clause” of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. OST argued that the federal government has a treaty obligation to protect its citizens from “bad men” as crime rates continue to climb on the 3.1 million acre reservation. According to Tribe v. United States, the federal expenditure rate to fund police officers per 1,000 individuals is 2.4 officers, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe is at 0.6 officers per 1,000 people. The Court ruled against the Tribe citing various reasons including that if the Court were to agree to the stipulation, that the federal government would have to meet every demand a Tribe makes.

CRST Chairman Ryman LeBeau said in a statement, “The South Dakota Governor speaks gossip and lies about our Lakota students, their parents, and our Tribal Councils. SD Governor’s statements made on March 13th, 2024, perpetuate stereotypes, misconceptions, which are inaccurate and untrue, According to her Christianity, gossip is a sinful act. As South Dakota’s Governor she does not know or understand our issues or successes of our Reservation schools and communities. The Governor is out of touch and auditioning for Trump’s vice president for her own personal political gain.”

While in Winner, SD—a border town of the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation—Governor Noem was also reported to have said that some tribal leaders are personally benefitting from cartels being on the reservations. “That’s why they attack me every day,” she said.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal Chairman Scott Herman said in a press release on March 15: “Her remarks were made from ignorance and with the intention to fuel a racially based and discriminatory narrative towards the Native people of South Dakota. We demand an apology from the governor.”

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