Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. May 13, 2024.

Editorial: Noem, The Tribes And A No-Win Situation

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has been on a roll of sorts lately, although it’s probably been the worst kind of roll possible for a politician.

Details in her new book — such as killing a dog and a goat and questionable facts about meeting foreign leaders — have ignited controversy as she attempts to position herself for the GOP vice-presidential ticket. Her book tour has been a disaster, and she’s even gotten into heated exchanges on conservative television networks.

But all these things have taken place on a national stage and, to a degree, have little if anything to do with South Dakota at this moment.

However, back here in her home state, she continues to feud with the state’s tribes, some of whom have retaliated in a manner that stirs more embarrassment for Noem.

Last week, two more tribes — including, reportedly, the Yankton Sioux Tribe in Charles Mix County — announced that they are barring the governor from their lands due to comments she made in March concerning the proliferation of drugs on the reservations and the impact these drugs are having on the people. Specifically, Noem stated during a town hall, “We’ve got some tribal leaders that I believe are personally benefiting from the cartels being there, and that’s why they attack me every day. But I’m going to fight for the people who actually live in those situations, who call me and text me every day and say, ‘Please, dear governor, please come help us in Pine Ridge. We are scared.’” It echoes comments made to a joint session of the Legislature in January when she said that the cartels have “set up shop” on the reservations.

Tribal leaders angrily condemned Noem’s remarks, which she presented without proof. 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 slanderous if not.

To date, we know of no evidence produced by her to back the specific allegation of tribal leaders in cahoots with cartels, although she did post a law enforcement video on social media last week about drug problems on the reservations. “Tribal leaders should take action to ban 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’s no surprise that the tribal leaders have resorted to issuing these bans on 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 relationships 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 the reservation boundaries to keep out unwanted visitors.

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

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

Noem’s charge looked mostly like political posturing. Political analyst Cal Jillson, who is based at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told the AP that Noem is “stoking (the issue) actively, which suggests that she sees a political benefit.”

The ban by the tribes, in this current atmosphere, is also a political response, and given Noem’s weakened position and her accumulating problems, it appears to be inflicting some damage on the national stage, which the governor can ill afford.

Either way, it’s a bad situation that’s getting uglier. It’s also needless and avoidable, and no one in South Dakota is winning in this.