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Controversy follows Gov. Kristi Noem as she is banned by two more South Dakota tribes

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 23.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is now banned from entering nearly 20% of her state after two more tribes banished her this week over comments she made this year about tribal leaders benefiting from drug cartels.

The developments in the ongoing tribal dispute come on the heels of the backlash Noem faced for writing about killing a misbehaving hunting dog in her latest book. It is unclear how these controversies will affect her chances of becoming Donald Trump’s running mate because it is hard to predict what the former president will do.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe voted Friday to ban Noem from its land in southeastern South Dakota just a few days after the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe took the same action. The Oglala, Rosebud, Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes had already taken action to keep her off their reservations. Three other tribes haven’t yet banned her.

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Noem reinforced the divisions between the tribes and the rest of the state in March when she said publicly that tribal leaders were catering to drug cartels on their reservations while neglecting the needs of children and the poor.

“We’ve got some tribal leaders that I believe are personally benefiting from the cartels being there, and that’s why they attack me every day,” Noem said at a forum. “But I’m going to fight for the people who actually live in those situations, who call me and text me every day and say, ’Please, dear governor, please come help us in Pine Ridge. We are scared.’”

Noem’s spokesman didn’t respond to email questions about the bans. But previously she has said she believes many people who live on the reservations still support her even though she is clearly not getting along with tribal leaders.

Noem addressed the issue in a post on X on Thursday along with posting a link to a YouTube channel about law enforcement’s video about drugs on the reservations.

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“Tribal leaders should take action to ban the cartels from their lands and accept my offer to help them restore law and order to their communities while protecting their sovereignty,” Noem said. “We can only do this through partnerships because the Biden Administration is failing to do their job.”

The tribes have clashed with Noem in the past, including over the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock and during the COVID-19 pandemic when they set up coronavirus checkpoints at reservation borders to keep out unnecessary visitors. She was temporarily banned from the Oglala Sioux reservation in 2019 after the protest dispute.

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And there is a long history of rocky relations between Native Americans in the state and the government dating back to 1890, when soldiers shot and killed hundreds of Lakota men, women and children during the Wounded Knee massacre as part of a campaign to stop a religious practice known as the Ghost Dance.

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Political observer Cal Jillson, who is based at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said this tribal dispute feels a little different because Noem seems to be “stoking it actively, which suggests that she sees a political benefit.”

“I’m sure that Gov. Noem doesn’t mind a focus on tensions with the Native Americans in South Dakota because if we’re not talking about that, we’re talking about her shooting the dog,” Jillson said.

Noem appears to be getting tired of answering questions about her decision to kill Cricket after the dog attacked a family’s chickens during a stop on the way home from a hunting trip and then tried to bite the governor. Noem also drew criticism for including an anecdote she has since asked her publisher to pull from the book that described “staring down” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a private meeting that experts said was implausible.

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After those controversies, she canceled several interviews that were planned as part of the book tour. With all the questions about “No Going Back: The Truth on What’s Wrong with Politics and How We Move America Forward,” no one is even asking anymore about Noem’s decision to appear in an infomercial-style video lavishing praise on a team of cosmetic dentists in Texas who gave her veneers.

Jillson said it all probably hurts Noem’s chances with Trump, who has been auditioning a long list of potential vice-president candidates.

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“I think that the chaos that Trump revels in is the chaos he creates. Chaos created by somebody else simply detracts attention from himself,” Jillson said.

University of South Dakota political science professor Michael Card said that if it isn’t the vice-president slot, it’s unclear what is in Noem’s political future because she is prevented from running for another term as governor. Noem is in her second term as governor.

She could go after U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds’ seat or try to return to the House of Representatives, Card said.

Funk writes for the Associated Press.

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