Attorney General Outlines Investigation Into Tribal Checkpoints

Jul 22, 2020

The South Dakota Attorney General sent state agents to reservations as part of an investigation into tribal checkpoints on state and federal highways.

Those agents were on fact-finding missions about how the checkpoints were conducted.

That update came during the state-tribal relations committee meeting.

Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says his office did not direct any citizens to go or not go through the checkpoints as part of their investigation.

He says some state employees had trouble entering reservations, so they took down their statements in sworn affidavits. They also gathered affidavits from citizens who he says had difficulty getting through the checkpoints in some fashion.

The checkpoints are a point of contention between the state and tribes. Governor Kristi Noem threatened a lawsuit, before passing the issue along to the White House.

Ravnsberg says the state has a right of way on those roads.

“The state has the right of way certificates dating back. We have compiled those, working with the Department of Transportation to find those documents and submit them to the federal government. I believe the tribe has copies of them as well. There’s be communication showing that—I’ve seen various letters where they’ve talked about that. There are right of way documents in place.”

Tribal law experts point to two federal case law that back the tribe’s use of checkpoints. One is a provision in the 1981 US Supreme Court decision of Montana versus the United States, which says tribes do have authority over non-Indians within reservation when conduct threatens the political integrity, economic security, health and welfare of tribe. Another is a 1990 ruling by the Eighth Circuit Court finds that—absent tribal consent, the state has no jurisdiction over highways running through “Indian lands.”

Attorney General Ravnsborg says he’s concerned about the checkpoints and upcoming Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He says the state has a strong legal position with other federal court decisions.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is suing the White House over the checkpoints issue. The state is not involved in that case.