Tribal Leaders Furious at Kristi Noem’s ‘Malicious’ Smear

The head of a Native American tribe is demanding that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem apologize for her “malicious and defamatory” allegation that tribal leaders are in cahoots with drug cartels.“Her remarks were made from ignorance and with the intention to fuel a racially based and discriminatory narrative towards the Native people of South Dakota,”

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The head of a Native American tribe is demanding that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem apologize for her “malicious and defamatory” allegation that tribal leaders are in cahoots with drug cartels.

“Her remarks were made from ignorance and with the intention to fuel a racially based and discriminatory narrative towards the Native people of South Dakota,” Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Scott Herman told The Daily Beast.

Noem’s remarks at a town hall meeting Wednesday have further damaged her relationship with the state’s tribes—one of which had already banned her from its reservation after similar insinuations.

The Republican governor’s spokesman, Ian Fury, did not respond to a request for comment, which is not unusual for him.

Noem has been highlighting drug use and trafficking on reservations for months.

“Murders are being committed by cartel members on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and in Rapid City, and a gang called the Ghost Dancers are affiliated with these cartels,” she said in a Jan. 31 speech to a joint session of the South Dakota Legislature. “They have been successful in recruiting tribal members to join their criminal activity.”

In response to those comments, Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out barred her from the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Due to the safety of the Oyate, effective immediately, you are hereby Banished from the homelands of the Oglala Sioux Tribe!” Star Comes Out said in a statement addressed to Noem.

If that was meant to chasten Noem, it didn’t work. At this week’s town hall in Winner, a small town in south-central South Dakota that has a large Native American population, she went even further.

“We’ve got some tribal leaders that I believe are personally benefiting from the cartels being here, and that’s why they attack me every day,” she said.

Gov. Kristi Noem at the town hall in Winner

Gov. Kristi Noem at the town hall in Winner

Kristi Noem via Twitter

She painted a stark picture of life on tribal lands.

“My next step would be to do what I can to get a tribe to participate with me to help their kids be more successful,” she said. “Because they live with 80 percent to 90 percent unemployment. Their kids don’t have any hope. They don’t have parents who show up and help them. They have a tribal council or a president who focuses on a political agenda more than they care about actually helping somebody’s life look better.”

Herman, the Rosebud Sioux leader, said that was an insult to Native American students, their parents, and the tribal councils and presidents or chairmen of the nine reservations of South Dakota.

“The Rosebud Sioux Tribe strongly condemns the governor’s statements, and we demand an apology from the governor,” Herman said.

“Those statements were made at a campaign function in Winner, South Dakota, purportedly to discuss two education bills, but Governor Noem’s statements strayed from education into an unwarranted and untruthful attack on Tribal Nations.”

“Gov. Noem’s racially prejudiced remarks about Tribal presidents and tribal councils being focused on a ‘political agenda’ are simply not true,” he added. “Gov. Noem’s malicious remarks that Tribal officials ‘benefit’ from the presence of cartels without any evidence is made without any basis in truth, and is defamatory and libelous.

“If the governor is truthful about wanting to work with tribal nations on issues of education, economic development, and law enforcement, she should take the time to contact tribal leaders before making racist, unsubstantiated and discriminatory attacks on tribal people.”

Harold Frazier, who served as chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe for 12 years and plans to seek the office again, said he also is outraged at Noem’s comments.

“To be such a huge leader, a prominent, so-called prominent leader, that’s kind of going down into the weeds,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a reason for her to go down like that.”

Harold Frazier

Harold Frazier, former chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

Tasos Katopodis/Getty

Frazier noted that Noem has said she wants to work with the tribes to mend the damaged relationship, which included a battle with the Cheyenne River Sioux after it set up coronavirus checkpoints at reservation borders to keep out unnecessary visitors.

“Then she turns around and says something like this,” Frazier said.

“If she has any information—and she claims to be a law-abiding citizen—why doesn’t she turn over the evidence to the proper authorities, the FBI, and let them go investigate if there is someone out there working with the cartels.”

A. Gay Kingman, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, said she was stunned by Noem’s remarks.

“There’s just a lot of disappointment,” she said.

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