South Dakota tribe sues feds to keep COVID-19 checkpoints

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe alleges in a lawsuit that the federal government has been trying to coerce and threaten the tribe ever since South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem asked for help stopping its COVID-19 checkpoints on state and federal highways.

The tribe filed the lawsuit Tuesday alleging that since Noem’s White House plea, the federal defendants have been abusing their power to coerce the tribe to dismantle its checkpoints. Alleged coercion against the tribe included potential monetary penalties and threats to cut off if its law enforcement contract and COVID relief. When that didn’t work, the tribe contends the defendants have tried to take over tribal law enforcement, “imperiling tribal public safety as well as public health.”

The Rapid City Journal reported the complaint was filed Tuesday in federal court in Washington, D.C., against President Donald Trump, White House officials and leadership in the Department of Interior and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Noem asked the White House in May for help to make the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux tribes remove their checkpoints on state and federal highways. The Republican governor contends the checkpoints on state and U.S. highways are illegal because the tribes have failed to consult and reach an agreement with the state, and are interfering with interstate commerce.

The government is “fishing” for excuses and trying to “pressure us any way they can,” Cheyenne River Sioux Chairman Harold Frazier told the Journal on Tuesday.

The tribes have checkpoints that limit some drivers from passing through or stopping on the reservations in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Frazier and Julian Bear Runner, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, contend that tribal sovereignty and treaty rights allow them to set checkpoints up on reservation land and control who enters.

The Department of Justice did not immediately reply to an Associated Press request for comment on lawsuit Wednesday.

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