Tribal Nations in South Dakota Restrict Governor's Access Over Political Disputes

 April 14, 2024

In a bold political stance, several tribal nations in South Dakota have declared areas under their control off-limits to Governor Kristi Noem.

According to The Hill, this measure stems from Noem's controversial statements on immigration, crime, and race, and her prioritization of political agendas over tribal interests, leading to a palpable rift between state leadership and indigenous communities. Noem, a VP candidate, has been banned from any action within several tribal nations.

Since assuming office in 2019, Governor Noem's relationship with the tribes has gradually soured, a downturn marked by her recent remarks which effectively bar her from setting foot on over 10% of South Dakota's land. These tribes have accused her of aligning her role with former President Trump's campaign strategies, particularly spotlighting her contentious narrative around the U.S.-Mexico border.

Early February saw the Oglala Sioux Tribe spearheading the movement by prohibiting Noem's presence on their land.

This action was in direct response to her describing the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border as an "invasion" and her decision to deploy the South Dakota National Guard to Texas. Tribe leader Frank Star Comes Out publicly rebuked Noem for using the term "invasion" and for her stance on migrant treatment, expressing the tribe's disapproval of her approach to border issues.

Frank Star Comes Out commented on Noem's rhetoric, stating: "Calling the United States’ southern border in Texas an ‘invasion’ by illegal immigrants and criminal groups to justify sending S.D. National Guard troops there is a red herring that the Oglala Sioux Tribe doesn’t support. It’s unfortunate that [the Oglala Sioux Tribe] chose to bring politics into the border issue."

Expanding Rifts and Escalating Tensions

Following the Oglala Sioux Tribe's lead, the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and Rosebud Sioux Tribe also imposed bans on Governor Noem. Their grievances highlight a disrespect for tribal sovereignty and criticize Noem's racially charged comments. Despite the backlash, Noem defended her statements on the border, associating public safety within tribal communities with the need to confront drug cartels' influence, arguing that these criminal organizations inflict daily horrors on these communities.

In reaction to accusations of her neglect of tribal sovereignty, Governor Noem proposed a law enforcement training course intended for the summer, aiming to bolster public safety within tribal lands.

This move was part and parcel of her broader call for enhanced federal support for tribal law enforcement efforts, asserting:

This training is a crucial first step toward addressing public safety issues in our tribal communities.


The trajectory of tension between Governor Noem and the tribal nations can be charted back to her office term commencing in 2019, with her remarks in late January of this year being a flashpoint. The bans from the tribal communities were progressively instituted, with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and others following suit after the Oglala Sioux's initial action. Notably, on March 29, Governor Noem further inflamed tensions by attending the Pe’ Sla meeting uninvited, leading to more severe criticism from tribal leaders.

Noem's counterpoints underscore the strain between ensuring public safety and respecting tribal sovereignty. Her insistence on associating her comments and actions with the broader issue of combating drug-related problems within tribal areas has been met with skepticism and condemnation from tribal leaders. They argue that her approaches and remarks do not respect tribal autonomy or address the underlying issues in a manner that honors shared governance and respect.

The banning of Governor Kristi Noem from tribal lands in South Dakota reflects deep-seated issues relating to her statements on immigration, crime, race, and her perceived prioritization of political agendas. The measures taken by multiple tribal nations signal a broader dispute over tribal sovereignty and respect, emphasizing a growing divide between state leadership and indigenous communities in South Dakota. As this situation unfolds, the dialogue between Governor Noem and the tribal nations remains critical to addressing the underlying tensions and forging a path toward mutual respect and collaboration.

About Victor Winston

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

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