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WPLC Stands with Cheyenne River & Oglala Sioux Tribes



May 19, 2020

Contact: Leoyla Cowboy Giron, Executive Director, WPLC / 805-699-1126 or

Natali Segovia, Chair, NLG Indigenous Peoples Rights Committee / 602-796-7034 or

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) stand in solidarity with the governments of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of Mnicoujou, Itazipco, Siha Sapa, and Oohenumpa people of the Lakota Nation) and the Oglala Sioux Tribe (the territorial government of the Oglala people of the Lakota Nation) in their efforts to protect their nations’ citizens from the COVID-19 pandemic by establishing health checkpoints within the jurisdictional boundaries of their territories. We call on South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem to respect these Indigenous Nations’ sovereign right to do so.

Sovereignty is an inherent characteristic of all nations, and is ultimately the collective human right of all peoples to freely self-govern and to act on behalf of the best interests of their own citizens and residents. The right to be free of colonial domination and racial or ethnic discrimination are human rights possessed by all peoples and nations long recognized under international law. Further, life, health, and a safe environment are also human rights possessed by each person, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or race. Indigenous people and nations receive inadequate healthcare and have already been found to be at greater risk of harm from the effects of COVID-19, including the rate of death, than the general population. Setting up critical health checkpoints on roads and highways into the territory of Indigenous Nations is vital to the protection of the public health and well within the inherent power of the Indigenous Nations as the sovereign governments of their own territories.

Indigenous Nation sovereignty is ensconced in the law of each Indigenous Nation, recognized in U.S. federal Indian law, and secured in international law and treaty law. It is well established that the State of South Dakota has no jurisdiction over highways that run through the Cheyenne River Sioux, Oglala Sioux, and other reservations in the state. Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. State of S.D., 900 F.2d 1164 (8th Cir. 1990).

Article 16 of the Ft. Laramie Treaty, signed and ratified in 1868, lays out the jurisdictional powers that have been recognized numerous times by the United States through case law, congressional acts and Supreme Court rulings: “[no] persons shall be permitted to settle upon or occupy any portion of the [Indian territory]; or without the consent of the Indians first had and obtained, to pass through the same.”

Finally, under international law, Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as endorsed by the United States, declares that: “in exercising their right to self-determination, [Indigenous peoples] have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs [as part of their right to self-determination equal to that of all other peoples]…”1

We reject the attempts of Governor Noem to intentionally and unlawfully diminish the sovereignty of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and urge Governor Noem to work with these Lakota Nation governments in the future, respecting the laws of the United States and international norms that regulate the Nation-to-Nation relationship that exists between the U.S. Government and its state governments with Indigenous governments.

  1. UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 2 October 2007, A/RES/61/295, available at:

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