Kristi Noem, the tribes and a non-profit situation

Yankton Press & Dakotan

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem has had her fair share of trouble lately, though it’s probably been the worst possible role for a politician.

Details in her new book — such as the killing of a dog and a goat and questionable facts about meeting foreign leaders — have sparked controversy as she tries to position herself for the Republican Party’s vice-presidential ticket. Her book tour was a disaster, and she even became embroiled in heated arguments on conservative television networks.

But all of these things have been happening on a national level and to some extent have little or nothing to do with South Dakota at this point.

But here in her home state, she continues to feud with the state’s tribes, some of whom have retaliated in ways that further embarrass Noem.

Recently, two more tribes — including reportedly the Yankton Sioux Tribe in Charles Mix County — announced they are banning their governor over comments she made in March about the spread of drugs on the reservations and the impact those drugs are having . have on the people. More specifically, Noem said during a town hall: “We have a number of tribal leaders who I believe are personally benefiting from the cartels’ presence, and that is why they attack me every day. But I’m going to fight for the people who actually live in these situations, who call and text me every day and say, ‘Please, dear Governor, please come help us in Pine Ridge. We are scared.” It echoes comments made during a joint session of the Legislature in January, when she said the cartels have been “riding reservations.”

Tribal leaders angrily condemned Noem’s comments, which she made without evidence. After the comments were made, this newspaper called on the governor to provide evidence of these allegations, which are serious matters if true and potentially defamatory if untrue.

To date, we are not aware of any evidence by her to support the specific accusation of tribal leaders being in cahoots with cartels, although she did recently post a law enforcement video on social media about drug problems on the reservations. “Tribal leaders must take action to banish the cartels from their lands and accept my offer to help them restore law and order to their communities while protecting their sovereignty,” Noem said.

It is no surprise that tribal leaders have resorted to issuing these bans to the governor. Because of Noem’s profile, it has become national news that the governor of South Dakota is now banned from setting foot in more than 20% of her own state.

Noem’s relations with the tribes have never been smooth. According to The Associated Press, Noem and the tribes clashed over the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock and also during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when some tribes set up checkpoints at reservation boundaries to keep out unwanted visitors to keep out.

The Yankton Sioux’s apparent decision to ban Noem was an act of solidarity, Councilman Ryan Cournoyer told South Dakota Searchlight. Other tribes the governor has banned include Oglala, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock and, also last week, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate.

There are major drug problems on the reservations, but whether these can be directly attributed to drug cartels and whether tribal officials are in some way working with the cartels is unknown and/or unproven.

Noem’s accusation seemed mainly like a political stance. Political analyst Cal Jillson, of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told the AP that Noem is “actively fueling the issue, which suggests she sees a political advantage in it.”

The tribal ban is also a political response in the current atmosphere, and given Noem’s weakened position and her mounting problems, it appears to inflict some damage on the national stage that the governor can hardly afford.

Either way, it’s a bad situation that’s getting uglier.