Gov. Kristi Noem is barred from 10% of North Dakota after third tribal nation votes to ban her from its territory

 April 11, 2024

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Council has voted to ban Gov. Kristi Noem from its South Dakota territory, the Washington Examiner reported. This is the third tribal nation to do so, cutting off a combined 10% of the state from its GOP governor.

The vote on Tuesday comes a week after the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe made a similar decision. In February, the Oglala Sioux Tribe banished Noem from its territory.

The move stems from outrage over remarks Noem made about tribes sheltering Mexican drug cartels. "Governor Kristi Noem’s wild and irresponsible attempt to connect tribal leaders and parents with Mexican drug cartels is a sad reflection of her fear-based politics that do nothing to bring people together to solve problems," Janet Alkire, SRST chairwoman, said in a news release.

"Rather than make uninformed and unsubstantiated claims, Noem should work with tribal leaders to increase funding and resources for tribal law enforcement and education," Alkire said. However, as the governor's spokeswoman, Amelia Joy, pointed out, barring Noem "does nothing to solve the problem."

The Tension Builds

During two speeches last month, Noem accused tribal leaders of benefiting from cartel activity, Fox News reported. "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," Noem said.

"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,'" the governor added.

While many agree that there is a drug and alcohol abuse problem among the tribes, Noem has yet to provide any proof that it has anything to do with tribal leaders cooperating with drug smuggling operations. Ian Fury, another of Noem's spokespeople, said that the "drug cartel presence on Native American reservations" has been chronicled in the news but ultimately failed to provide any further evidence.

This rhetoric has led to tension between Noem and tribal leaders. "How dare the Governor allege that Sioux Tribal Councils do not care about their communities or their children, and, worse, that they are involved in nefarious activities?" said Frank Star Comes Out, president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

For her part, Noem has reportedly reached out to tribal leaders in February and last week to speak about problems on the reservation. It's unclear whether there was any response, however.

A Political Strategy

Some believe Noem is provoking the tribes as they comprise Democratic pockets in a heavily Republican state. Michael Card, University of South Dakota political science professor emeritus, also believes she may be trying to emulate former President Donald Trump's success with the border issue.

Noem could parlay this into a spot as his vice president on the 2024 ticket. "She’s trying to out-Trump Trump by saying something crazy about Native Americans because she knows we’ve had a long history of fighting with the state..." Democratic state Sen. Shawn Bordeaux charged.

Indeed, the conflict between Native Americans and the settlers was at its height in North Dakota in the 1800s. Bordeaux, who is a former Rosebud Sioux tribal council member, believes this fact might turn this into national news that would catch Trump's attention.

Native American tribes were displaced from the land hundreds of years ago. Like so many other programs that were created to help people, the reservation model seems to do more harm than good for everyone involved, and that's the real heart of the issue.

Regardless of Noem's motives, the fact that the governor was barred from a portion of her state further strains relations between the parties. If either side was hoping for unity, this issue proves there is still a long way to go.

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