The Oglala Sioux Tribe has shut down the only grocery store in Pine Ridge after an Indian Health Service inspection revealed 11 “critical” violations in the meat department, including employees mixing spoiled hamburger with fresh hamburger and repackaging it for sale.

A tribal court hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Kyle will determine if the Sioux Nation Superstore can reopen, according to tribal public relations coordinator Donna Salomon.

The tribe on Friday announced it had obtained a temporary restraining order to close the shopping center “due to health and safety concerns.”

Salomon said Monday she couldn’t say what the health and safety concerns were and that tribal president John Yellow Bird Steele was in meetings and unavailable to comment.

But a May 3 Indian Health Service inspection found that the store was mixing ground beef from packages dated Feb. 23 with fresh meat and relabeling it for sale, according to a May 4 letter from IHS sanitarian Joe Amiotte to the Sioux Nation Grocery. Store workers were mixing the meat in a bin soiled by “an accumulation of hamburger and dried blood.”

According to the inspection report, the store also had in its display case a rump roast with a sell-by date of April 26 and bologna with a sell-by date of March 19; the temperatures in the display cooler and walk-in cooler were above the 41-degree maximum, and the store was storing boxes of meat on the floor and improperly labeling packages of meat.

After being notified of the violations, the tribe on May 4 ordered store operator Aaron Cohn to cease operations and sales from the meat department, according to a letter from Tribal Health and Human Services Committee vice chairman Scott Weston.

Weston said the department had to remove all meat from its shelves and would not be permitted to sell meat until all the critical violations had been corrected and another inspection could be conducted.

It was unclear Monday whether a follow-up inspection has been conducted. Amiotte said he could not comment, and an IHS spokeswoman was unavailable.

No one answered the phone Monday at Sioux Nation Superstore. Cohn did not return messages left at his Cohn Wholesale Fruit & Groceries office in San Diego.

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It was unclear why the tribe’s restraining order closed the entire grocery store over the weekend.

Former Pine Ridge resident Carla Cheyenne, now of Rapid City, said she is concerned that the residents of Pine Ridge do not have easy access to groceries.

“This is the only grocery store for the natives to go to down there, and a lot of them don’t have transportation to go elsewhere,” Cheyenne said.

The closest grocery stores to Pine Ridge are in Whiteclay, Neb., which is about two miles south of the community.

Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or email barbara.soderlin@rapidcityjournal.com.

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