Kristi Noem now banned from all tribal lands in South Dakota

The feud between South Dakota’s governor and indigenous Native American tribes in her state escalated again on Wednesday as the ninth of the nine recognized tribes in the state voted to ban her from their lands.

It’s a decision that is unlikely to move the Republican governor and conservative culture war enthusiast, who has been publicly gunning for a shot at being Donald Trump’s running mate. But it does signal the deep dissatisfaction that the governor faces at home from her state’s Native population.

Noem’s feud with the tribes stems from a number of reasons, including disputes between the state government and tribal leaders during the Covid-19 pandemic and her efforts to save the doomed Keystone XL pipeline project. But her most recent spat with Native American leaders relates to her accusations that tribes are allowing drug cartels from Central America to operate on their territory.

She has also made comments about Native American parents and their children, which caused deep offense.

Her comments about cartels were made during a May 17 press conference: “I ask them .... Why have they not banished the cartels? Why have they not banished the cartel affiliates? Why have they only focused their attention on me, who has offered them help, and not gone after those who are perpetuating violence?” she said, at the time.

As evidence, she pointed to a quote from Frank Star Comes Out, president of the Oglala Sioux, who testified before a US Senate committee in 2023. Star Comes Out blamed the federal government, which ultimately has law enforcement authority in tribal lands, for allowing cartels to “move on” to the Oglala Sioux reservation.

Kristi Noem speaks at the Library of Congress on February 17, 2023 (Getty Images)
Kristi Noem speaks at the Library of Congress on February 17, 2023 (Getty Images)

This week, Star Comes Out issued a statement insisting that no drugs or weapons were being produced on the reservation, but insisted that his tribe needed more law enforcement funding to battle organized crime on their territory.

“Crime has only gotten worse,” Star Comes Out said, pointing to an “extreme officer shortage” that have led to 30-60 minute response times. Other tribal leaders have argued that while crime is a real problem, cartels are not operating directly on their territory — it’s just where their products end up.

"We have cartel products, like guns and drugs. But they pass over state highways getting to the reservation. So, putting us all together like that and saying that all tribes are involved in this really shows to the ignorance of the governor's office," Crow Creek Sioux president Peter Lengkeek said.

Noem’s comments about the cartels specifically led to her banishment in February from the Oglala Sioux reservation; her latest ban came from the Flandreau Santee Sioux. She’s now banned from roughly one-fifth of her state’s total land mass.

“The Executive Committee calls on the governor to reconsider the effectiveness of the liaisons she has appointed and whether or not they truly have an understanding of the issues affecting tribal nations as well as their ability to foster a cooperative relationship between the tribes and the state of South Dakota,” said the Flandreau Santee Sioux in a statement.

The governor addressed her bans from tribal land at a May 17 press conference and called on tribal leaders to work with her administration to battle criminal gangs.

“Banishing me does absolutely nothing to solve this problem,” she said. “All it does is help those who are perpetuating horrible violence and crimes against the people that are citizens of the state of South Dakota.”

Her dispute with tribal leaders could provide a welcome relief for the governor in terms of media coverage. It’s been a rough month for Noem, who was once thought to be near the top of Donald Trump’s list of potential running mates. She saw her name plummet on that list after a vicious media cycle around an anecdote in her book in which she described killing a puppy with a shotgun.

She remains a close ally of Trump’s, however, and the former president recently appeared alongside her at a fundraiser.