South Dakota Tribes Ban Governor Noem Amid Controversy

 May 12, 2024

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem finds herself increasingly isolated from the Native American communities in her state.

Following her divisive remarks linking tribal leaders to drug cartels, multiple Sioux tribes have barred Gov. Kristi Noem from entering their lands, ABC News reported.

These tribes, including the Yankton Sioux Tribe and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, occupy territories that compose nearly a fifth of South Dakota.

Tensions Escalate Over Governor's Comments

The issue flared in March when Gov. Noem made contentious comments at a public forum. She insinuated that some tribal leaders might be colluding with drug cartels, an accusation that has severely strained her relationship with these communities.

Moreover, her political future is clouded by several other controversies. These include questionable narratives in her book, such as an anecdote about killing a misbehaving hunting dog, which sparked a furor in April 2024.

Gov. Noem's blunt remarks and actions have long been problematic. She first encountered significant opposition from tribal nations during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests in 2016 and again during the COVID-19 pandemic over reservation checkpoints.

Political Ambitions and Future Uncertainties

Due to state term limits, Gov. Noem cannot seek reelection during her current second term. Her ambitions might include a U.S. Senate seat or a return to the House of Representatives, but recent events could complicate her political journey.

Political analysts speculate that these controversies could dampen her prospects, particularly a potential vice-presidential candidacy alongside Donald Trump. Strategic considerations for such a high-profile role often center on avoiding additional controversies.

At a recent public appearance, Gov. Noem defended her stance against tribal leaders, asserting that she was acting on behalf of constituents who felt threatened by criminal elements on tribal lands:

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.

The governor also took to social media platform X to proclaim her readiness to assist the tribes in re-establishing law and order while respecting their sovereignty.

Political Observers Weigh In

Political observer Cal Jillson believes that Gov. Noem might prefer the focus to be on these tensions, as it diverts attention from more personal controversies, such as the anecdote about the hunting dog. Jillson also commented on the dynamics of chaos in political leadership, noting that while Trump may appreciate chaotic situations, it typically needs to be chaos of his own making.

University of South Dakota professor Michael Card expressed apprehension about Gov. Noem's political future, pointing out the uncertainty surrounding her career once she leaves the governor's office.

As Gov. Noem navigates these troubled waters, the response from tribal leaders and the broader political community will be crucial in shaping her political trajectory and the future interaction between state and tribal governments in South Dakota.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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