PIERRE, S.D. —South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravsnborg is conducting an investigation into the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s health checkpoints per Gov. Kristi Noem’s request.

In a letter to President Donald Trump and South Dakota’s congressional representatives, Noem provided several affidavits resulting from the ongoing investigation. The legal documents will not be released publicly outside of a legal proceeding.

“As a final alternative to formal litigation, I’m asking for immediate federal assistance to: (a) bring a prompt end to these unlawful tribal checkpoints/blockades on US/State highways; and (b) require the CRST to comply with the procedures set forth in the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) Memo.”

On May 8, Noem sent a letter to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who have set up health checkpoints on highways coming into their reservations saying the tribes had 48 hours to remove the checkpoints or face legal action.

After that ultimatum, Noem sent letters to Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Chairman Harrold Frazier and Oglala Sioux Tribal President Julian Bear Runner that proposed a three part plan for establishing and operating tribal checkpoints.

  • No one entering or traveling on a U.S. or state highway will be stopped or impeded. This traffic is passing through the reservation and tribal interaction with these travelers at checkpoints is unlawful and could actually increase the risk of spreading the virus on the reservation.

  • Checkpoints on tribal and BIA roads would be supported by the state, which would mean that anyone turning off a U.S. or state highway would be subject to a tribal checkpoint.

  • The state would request that tribal checkpoints established on tribal or BIA roads would permit access for all people providing emergency services, delivery of food, energy and medical supplies, and access to private property within the reservation.

Frazier responded to the proposed plan on May 12, writing that the tribe would take the plan into consideration.

The tribes have contended that the state has no authority to control tribal health checkpoints on highways located within the reservations.

Noem countered that argument with easement documents that granted the state right-of-way along the highways where checkpoints are established within the reservation.

“This is not a matter of tribal sovereignty, as South Dakota received easements giving South Dakotans and other highway travelers access rights over and upon the U.S./State highways on tribal land,” Noem stated in the letter.

“These easements demonstrate the State’s rights in the roadways and further support the process set forth in the BIA memo.”

Noem’s letter to Trump also included permanent easement documents for U.S. Highway 212, state Highway 20, state Highway 34 and state Highway 63.

During a press conference Thursday, May 21, Noem said federal officials had received her letter requesting assistance to help provide legal clarity regarding the checkpoints.

She added that all tribal checkpoints in South Dakota are under investigation by the state.

By the numbers

Two more COVID-19 deaths have been reported by the South Dakota Department of Health, bringing the total number of deaths to 48 as of Thursday, May 21.

One death was a person in the 30-39 age range while the other was in the 80 and over age range.

Current hospitalizations increased to 91, up 10 from Wednesday. The state's number of new positive cases increased by 73 and now total 4,250. Active cases of COVID-19 are at 1,057.

So far, the coronavirus has hospitalized 342 South Dakotans.