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Tribe removes disputed coronavirus reservation checkpoints

Tribe removes disputed coronavirus reservation checkpoints

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EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. — The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has taken down the coronavirus checkpoints on its South Dakota reservation that were a point of contention between the tribe and Republican Gov. Kristi Noem and the Trump administration.

Cheyenne River spokesman Remi Bald Eagle said the tribal council made the decision to remove the nine checkpoints because of declining infection rates and the arrival of coronavirus vaccines on the reservation.

Bald Eagle said the approximately 175 workers who staffed the checkpoints around the clock, seven days a week will be offered jobs helping with vaccination sites, contact tracing and quarantine support.

The tribe also hopes to work with President Joe Biden’s new Bureau of Indian Affairs staff to maintain control over its police department, after the Trump administration sent a letter in December saying the agency would begin managing the department.

The tribe filed a lawsuit alleging the BIA began to aggressively pursue a longstanding issue over tribal officers’ background checks in order to pressure it to shut down its checkpoints, the Rapid City Journal reported.

The tribe established the checkpoints to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and barred some drivers from passing through or stopping on the reservation. Noem said the checkpoints on state and federal highways were illegal because they were interfering with interstate commerce.

The tribe argued in its lawsuit that the checkpoints were legal because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that tribes can exercise civil jurisdiction over non-members regarding conduct that threatens health and welfare.

After Noem was unsuccessful in getting the checkpoints dismantled, she turned to the Trump administration for help.

The tribe's lawsuit accused the Trump administration of trying to coerce and threaten the tribe to remove the checkpoints or risk losing coronavirus funding and control over its police department.

The federal government filed a motion last September to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it was no longer relevant, in part because President Donald Trump could not be sued over his official work conduct.

There are about 8,600 people who live on the reservation. Bald Eagle said vaccines obtained through the Indian Health Service are available to tribal and non-tribal members who are age 18 or older.

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