Combatting the Cartel Crisis: at Home and at the Border

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Combatting the Cartel Crisis: at Home and at the Border


By: Governor Kristi Noem

May 17, 2024


“The State of South Dakota lacks criminal jurisdiction over Indian Country crimes; thus, in reality, the sole provider of law enforcement services to the Oglala Sioux Tribe is the federal government. We believe this federal neglect has resulted in the cartel moving on to our reservation, an increase in overdoses, and a proliferation of guns on our school properties.”


Those comments were made by the President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Frank Star Comes Out. And I agree with him 100%. The same man who said these words led a movement to banish me just two months later for speaking the same truth. Clearly, many tribal leaders would rather play politics to try and hurt me, rather than work with me to help their people succeed.


Banishing me does nothing to solve this problem or to help those who are suffering horrific tragedies.


Yesterday, I returned home from the dangerous, deadly warzone at our nation’s Southern Border. South Dakota National Guard soldiers have helped the Texas National Guard construct miles of border wall in 100-degree weather to keep the American people safe – and keep cartel-driven drugs and human trafficking out of our great country.


These brave soldiers represent the sixth deployment of South Dakota National Guard troops to defend our border, and some might wonder why a small state that’s closer to Canada than Texas would care at all. The answer is quite simple: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s radical open border policies have failed the American people and turned even South Dakota into a border state.


The cartels’ criminal activity has made all of our communities dangerous, especially tribal reservations where I have no jurisdiction. These cartels are working with gangs throughout the U.S. – like the Bandidos and their local affiliates the Ghost Dancers – to poison our people and to traffic women and children into sex slavery.


In fact, the cartels know it’s easy to supply drugs on tribal reservations with near impunity. According to President Jeffrey Stiffarm of the Fort Belknap Indian Community, “We don’t have criminal jurisdiction over any of these people that bring in these drugs, over non [tribal] members – even cartel members… so our hands are tied.”


State law enforcement has not been welcomed onto tribal reservations to help – and we have respected tribal sovereignty. The federal government has so badly failed at the most basic functions of public safety (both at the border and on our reservations) that the tribes are suing the Biden Administration for shirking their treaty obligations.


The presence of the drug cartels and their affiliates on tribal reservations across the nation is not up for debate – it is established fact. And it is not a unique problem to South Dakota. Even Democrat Senator Jon Tester from Montana recently said in a briefing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, “We’ve got cartels in Indian country. We’ve got a lot of bad shit going on.”


Stiffarm also testified that his tribe and their neighbors are “fighting a losing battle” against the drug cartels. But the most powerful moment of his testimony came when he said that one of his peers declined to testify because he had received death threats from the cartel.


Think about that. A Native American leader decided not to testify before his own Congress because of death threats from a foreign criminal element.


I have repeatedly reached out to South Dakota’s nine Native American tribes and offered what help I can to improve their public safety. On some issues, we’ve succeeded – recently launching a first-of-its-kind law enforcement training focused on tribal law enforcement officers alongside our Attorney General. And my state agencies actively work with our tribes on thousands of needs affecting almost every aspect of their lives, from child welfare to emergency response, from tax collection agreements to upgrading their ambulance services.


Tribal residents see my actions and recognize my heart and the truth. One caller to my office, a woman from the Oglala Sioux Tribe, told me that there is tremendous corruption amongst the tribal council, and that some of the tribal council members themselves personally benefit from the cartel being there. She stated that if tribal members call this out, they are “blackballed” and will be prohibited from working anyplace on the reservation.


We have received hundreds of calls and emails in recent weeks like that one with similar disturbing messages. The truth always comes out.


I will work every day to protect our children in every community from the danger of drugs, fight to protect our women from rape and trafficking, and help bring safety and peace to these communities.