Why One South Dakota Tribe Refuses to Ban Kristi Noem From Its Lands

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Lower Brule Sioux tribal council on Wednesday became the latest to vote in favor of banning South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem from its land—leaving just one tribal territory in the state where the embattled politician is still openly welcome: the Flandreau Santee Sioux.

But don’t expect them to follow their counterparts in antagonizing their state’s governor, a spokesperson for the tribe told The Daily Beast.

Noem angered Indigenous American communities in her state earlier this year by suggesting, among other things, that tribal leaders are colluding with Mexican drug cartels. Noem also recently blamed Indigenous parents for abandoning their children and sabotaging their academic performance.

She was subsequently declared persona non grata by the Crow Creek, Sisseton Wahpeton, Oglala, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, and Rosebud Sioux tribes, which account for nearly all of the tribal land in South Dakota—almost 20 percent of the state’s total area. The leadership committee of the Yankton Sioux Tribe also said it supports a ban, though it has yet to make an official decision.

But there’s one tribe still holding out hope for a productive relationship with the governor: the Flandreau Santee Sioux.

Tribal Communications Director Francis Wakeman told The Daily Beast that while Noem’s rhetoric is “not too helpful,” it had no immediate plans to bar her from their tribal land.

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“We’re really busy with our own economic development and our own tasks right now,” he said. “The governor has her agenda; we have ours. We’re just continuing forward. So, we’re not going to get into the issue of banning the governor or anything at this time.”

He said that he understood other tribes were having issues with the state leader, but explained that the Flandreau Santee Sioux didn’t “have that relationship right now with the governor.”

Wakeman said he actually agreed with some of the things Noem has said about the academic needs of Indigenous children not being met.

“When it comes to chronic absenteeism, we do have a high rate of that. … We’re… working with our parents to address those concerns, but we are happy that [Noem is] concerned about Native education,” Wakeman said.

“We understand where [Noem is] coming from, but at the same time, [non-Indigenous politicians] kind of have to understand where Native people are coming from. It’s not been a good experience for any of us.”

Wakeman detailed how boarding school trauma still provides anxiety when it comes to Flandreau Santee children attending school.

“I came from one generation away from a mother that had a bad experience at boarding schools within the state,” he explained. “So, there’s a lot of apprehension on Native people when you start tossing the word ‘education’ around because we have such a traumatic experience with it.

“Those are the types of issues that kind of pop up whenever we talk about children in education, but we are addressing those things,” Wakeman added, “and we are trying to be culturally sensitive to those that have suffered abuses.”

The comments come as Lower Brule Sioux Tribe Chairman Clyde Estes said on Wednesday it was standing in solidarity with fellow South Dakota tribes and banning the governor.

In a statement to The Daily Beast, Estes confirmed that the tribal nation had “banished SD Governor Noem until further notice.”

“We sent the Governor a letter a couple of months ago asking her to apologize for her gross misstatements regarding our native youth saying they have no hope and the disparaging remarks about the parents of the children that they are absent in their children's lives,” Estes issued on Facebook under the tribe's communications page. We are calling on the Governor to issue a formal apology to all SD native youth, their parents and tribal leaders for the unfounded truths she has stated.

“We ... stand in solidarity with our Oceti Sakowin Tribes in South Dakota.”

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The decision by Lower Brule Sioux Tribe comes a day after the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe unanimously decided that Noem couldn’t step foot on their land due to the “derogatory remarks” that she made at that town hall meeting in March.

“We banned [Noem] on her derogatory remarks about the cartels and ghost dancers,” Crow Creek Sioux Tribal Council member Kyle Loudner told local news outlet KELOLAND.

He added that the Governor also ignored a state of emergency that the tribe had attempted to put in place. In July 2023, the Crow Creek Sioux issued a declaration that the tribe’s treaty with the U.S. was being broken because there were inadequate resources and law enforcement, which affected the health and safety of its members.

In a statement to The Daily Beast late Wednesday night, Noem’s chief of communications said that banishing the governor “does nothing to solve [the] problem or help those who are suffering horrific tragedies.”

“She calls on all our tribal leaders to banish the cartels from tribal lands,” Ian Fury wrote.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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