Gov. Kristi Noem said Thursday that it’s important to gain legal clarity on tribes' COVID-19 checkpoints because allowing them during the pandemic could set “a precedent for that to happen far into the future in many other situations as well.”
But she did not answer whether a future situation she’s concerned about is tribes blocking vehicles involved in the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“I would say that would be a great question for the tribes,” Noem said.
Spokesmen for the Oglala and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes did not immediately return messages from the Journal.
But the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe already has a law banning such vehicles from the reservation.
“All Keystone XL trucks and escort vehicles that drive onto our reservation (should) be turned around immediately,” according to a tribal resolution cited in a June 2019 press release from Chairman Harold Frazier.
That press release was sent after tribal police escorted a semi-truck off the reservation. Frazier and other tribal members said the truck was working for a contractor with TC Energy — the company that's planning on building the pipeline — but TC Energy said the truck has no relation to the company or pipeline.
Construction for a workforce camp near Philip, which is around 85 miles east of Rapid City, and Baker, Montana, have already begun, the Associated Press reported on Thursday A photo of construction north of Philip was printed in the Pioneer Review, according to a photo of the May 7 paper posted to Facebook.
This is a photo of a published photo of a group of workers gathered at the man camp site north of Philip posted b/c A) that’s a large group of folks congregated just outside a rural community, B) can’t tell if they’re wearing masks, & C)... 1/8 pic.twitter.com/WBD0EHZ3AI— Rebecca Terk (@flying_tomato) May 18, 2020
“The highways that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes are monitoring connect to several potential construction sites of the proposed pipeline route, which skirts tribal lands,” the AP says. But if TC Energy wants to build the pipeline it will have to win an appeal after a federal judge in Montana recently cancelled one of its permits.
"We only use pre-approved routes and will not access any roads in or out of reservation areas, TC Energy spokeswoman Sara Rabern told the Journal when asked if the company is concerned about the checkpoints.
Noem’s comment about precedent came after a reporter asked if she regrets issuing a 48-hour ultimatum to sue the Cheyenne River and Oglala Sioux tribes that she never carried out.
The governor said she doesn’t regret it because “it’s very important that we have clarity in this area to make sure that we are upholding the law and we know whose jurisdiction is in each situation that these checkpoints are in.”
“With every action that we take and that the tribes take, they’re setting precedent, so we can’t just look at this situation in a virus and a pandemic,” Noem continued. “If we allow checkpoints to shut down traffic in this situation then we are setting precedent for that to happen far into the future in many other situations as well.”
The Journal then asked if the future situation she’s worried about is tribes blocking KXL vehicles.
Noem responded that the pipeline is not crossing through tribal land but “there could be vehicles that pass through these areas.”
“That build will be happening in the coming months if things proceed the way that they are,” Noem said about the KXL Pipeline. “And I’ve been long dedicated to to making sure that it is a peaceful build and that law and order is upheld.”
The tribes say the pipeline passes through lands promised to the Oceti Sakowin in now-broken treaties, and a spill could impact their water sources. And the Rosebud Sioux Tribe says the pipeline does cross land it owns mineral and surface rights to, according to a March 1 story by SDPB.
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