Noem hires former Oglala Sioux police chief for state post as another tribe votes to ban her

Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek delivers the annual State of the Tribes address to lawmakers on Jan. 12, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)

John Hult, South Dakota Searchlight

Gov. Kristi Noem appointed a former Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Public Safety chief to a post in the state’s Department of Tribal Relations on Tuesday, alleging he “found himself without a job” for speaking up about drug cartels on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The appointment of Algin Young as tribal law enforcement liaison came as another tribe voted to ban the governor from its lands, and as questions arose about the impact of a ban voted on by another South Dakota tribe.

The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe voted to ban Noem from its lands Tuesday morning, Chairman Peter Lengkeek told South Dakota Public Broadcasting. The Yankton Sioux Tribe’s Business and Claims Committee, the highest-level elected body for that nation, voted to support a ban last week, though it’s since been pointed out that such a ban would not be final and enforceable without a vote of tribal members. The tribes were the sixth and seventh of the nine tribes in the state to vote in favor of banning the governor so far this year.

The recent spate of conflicts with the state’s tribes began on Jan. 31, when the governor delivered a speech on U.S. border policy to a joint session of the South Dakota Legislature. In it, she described the southern border of the U.S. as a “warzone,” language she repeated in her Tuesday press release on Young’s appointment.

Her speech included language calling out the impact of Mexican drug cartels on the reservations.

Noem has suggested that responses from tribal leaders to her cartel comments, as well as the bans, have come because some of them are “personally benefiting” from a cartel presence on reservations.

She’s also drawn fire for telling audiences in Winner and Mitchell that Native children lack hope, and that “they don’t have parents who show up and help them.”

Young appointment implies firing

Noem has argued that the federal government is failing tribes through a lack of law enforcement funding. The Oglala Sioux Tribe has sued the federal government over that issue, and Noem pledged to support that lawsuit during her Jan. 31 speech.

The governor’s office has not intervened as a party in the tribe’s most recent federal lawsuit, but she has moved to support tribal law enforcement in other ways. Last month, she pledged to fund a special session of the state’s police academy specifically for tribal trainees. Most tribal police train for 13 weeks in New Mexico, and South Dakota’s congressional delegation has lobbied for a regional training facility to encourage recruitment.

In February, Noem penned a letter to the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs urging more funding for tribal law enforcement in South Dakota.

In Noem’s press release on his appointment, Young said that he looks forward “to serving as an ambassador for the State of South Dakota at the federal level and with the State’s nine tribal nations to facilitate solutions for tribal law enforcement and understand and navigate jurisdictional challenges.”

The release also includes a thinly veiled reference to tribal resistance to Noem’s comments.

The release says that Young “found himself without a job” after “bravely testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on the cartel presence on tribal lands.”

Young testified before that committee during a listening session about public safety in Indian Country on March 20. His testimony came minutes after the testimony of Oglala Sioux Tribal President Frank Star Comes Out.

Neither mentioned cartels in their verbal comments, which can be viewed in full on the committee’s website.

The Senate committee did collect written testimony until April 12, and that testimony is not available online. There was no immediate response Tuesday to an email to the committee’s press officers asking for any written testimony that may have been submitted by Young or Star Comes Out.

The tribe’s director of public safety job was advertised on the tribe’s Facebook page on April 15. There were no Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings between March 20 and that date.

Indian Country Today reported that Young’s contract expired on April 20.

Star Comes Out did not return a Searchlight message seeking comment on Young’s appointment.

Representatives with Noem’s office and the Office of Tribal Relations did not offer a date for the “cartel presence” testimony.

Yankton Sioux Tribe ban vote not binding

So far, seven tribes have voted to ban Noem from their lands. The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe and Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe have yet to pass such a resolution. Lower Brule voted down such a ban earlier this year, but Chairman Clyde Estes told SDPB that it might consider one again in June based on Noem’s comments about Native children.

“The children should be left out of any political discussion,” Estes told SDPB’s Lee Strubinger. “To say that they have no hope is wrong and she should not have said that.”

The Yankton Sioux Tribe’s Business and Claims Committee voted to support a ban that would bar the governor from its lands on Friday, but that vote lacks the authority of law, the committee’s secretary said Tuesday.

Such a ban would not be official without a vote from the tribe’s general council, meaning a vote of tribal members at a meeting called by either the committee leadership or a petition from tribal members.

“We don’t have anything scheduled,” said Secretary Courtney Sully. “We don’t even have a resolution.”

The Yankton Sioux Tribe is the only one of the nine tribes in South Dakota that lacks a tribal council-style government with elected representatives to vote on all tribal affairs. Such governments are known as “IRA” governments, named for the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, which encouraged tribal nations to adopt city council-style authority structures.

The Yankton Sioux Tribe’s Business and Claims Committee, Sully said, aligns more closely with pre-colonial decision-making. The committee is empowered to manage the tribe’s day-to-day affairs, Sully said, but cannot take larger actions without a vote of the people.

“Banning someone isn’t part of our daily business,” said Sully, who said she abstained from the Friday vote. She doesn’t like the governor’s comments, she said, but doesn’t believe they rise to the level of something requiring a ban.

The majority of the committee did vote to endorse a ban, however. A statement from Vice Chair Jason Cooke, sent to Searchlight on Tuesday, reiterated the earlier words of committee member Ryan Cournoyer, who said the vote was a sign of solidarity with other tribes.

The statement calls the governor “anti-tribe.” It references pre-2024 conflicts over pipeline protests, COVID checkpoints, education, and Noem’s lack of response to discrimination against Native Americans by a Rapid City hotel owner. The statement says the governor “now blames tribes for crime in her own cities.”

“Governor Noem, stop the political pandering and get serious about working on these issues with Tribes,” Cooke wrote. “It has been six years of inaction, ineptness, and ignorance from your office on serious policy issues impacting our shared citizens.”