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Native American Tribes Defy South Dakota Orders To Remove Checkpoints

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Two native tribes in South Dakota are defying an order from the governor to take down travel checkpoints on state and U.S. highways. The tribes use those checkpoints to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 on tribal lands. Here's Lee Strubinger of South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

LEE STRUBINGER, BYLINE: Four deputized officers in face masks and yellow vests on the Cheyenne River Reservation in north-central South Dakota man a checkpoint on U.S. Highway 212, which runs the length of the reservation.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Any fever, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath?

STRUBINGER: It's a stop sign and cones set up in each of the highway's two lanes. They ask drivers for their name, phone number and where they're traveling to and from. The state and federal governments say tribes don't have the authority to do that on state and federal highways. About 100 miles south, the Oglala Sioux Tribe has similar checkpoints. Governor Kristi Noem says travelers passing through, ranchers in the area and the state Department of Transportation tell her that people are being turned away at checkpoints.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTI NOEM: For me, it's a priority that we make sure that if somebody needs an ambulance on a reservation, one can get to them. And I'm not sure of that today with these checkpoints operating the way that they are.

HAROLD FRAZIER: No, my response would be it's not true.

STRUBINGER: Harold Frazier is Cheyenne River's tribal chairman.

FRAZIER: Maybe she should come to our checkpoint and check it out.

STRUBINGER: Both Frazier and leaders on Pine Ridge say they're keeping their checkpoints to aid in coronavirus contact tracing. Noem hasn't said when the state would file suit but says it wants clarification on who has jurisdiction. In the 1990s, a federal appeals court found that without tribal consent, the state has no jurisdiction over highways running through Indian lands. Frazier says if the state had the legal means to take down the tribe's checkpoints, it would have done so already. For NPR News, I'm Lee Strubinger in Rapid City.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAWRENCE BLATT'S "WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.