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President of Oglala Sioux Tribe suspended for 30 days; lockdown lifted

Julian Bear Runner

Julian Bear Runner

The president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe was suspended for 30 days because some council members were upset they couldn’t reach him after he issued his now-cancelled 72-hour coronavirus lockdown.

The council voted 13-7 on Wednesday to suspend Julian Bear Runner for 30 days with pay, according to tribal spokeswoman Karin Eagle. Vice President Tom Poor Bear will take over presidential duties during that time.

The vote occurred during an emergency meeting called to discuss the lockdown, Eagle said. She said the council voted to immediately end the lockdown, which went into effect at 2:45 p.m. Monday and was supposed to last through that time on Wednesday.

The lockdown ordered most tribal workers to stay home and banned all non-essential travel to and from the reservation. COVID-19 checkpoints, a curfew and shelter-in-place ordinance remain in effect.

Robin Tapio, a representative for the Pine Ridge District, said she made a motion to suspend Bear Runner so he had the time to “rethink and re-visualize” the direction the tribe is going in.

Tapio said council members had no warning the lockdown was coming and were “bombarded with questions” from their constituents about it. 

But she said Bear Runner’s “whereabouts were unknown” and she and others couldn’t reach him to ask questions about the order. 

Council members were “left to pick up the pieces of mass chaos,” Tapio said.

“I do support the president” and want “nothing but the best” for him, but he “needs to be held accountable,” she added.

Tapio said the motion also ordered Bear Runner to quarantine for 14 days. She said he was ordered to quarantine because he admitted he was recently in Rapid City and at protests.

Tapio said she herself was once suspended after using derogatory language at a council meeting. She said she admitted to her wrongdoing and apologized.

“We all need to be held accountable” she said.

Bear Runner did not immediately respond to a request for comment via a tribal spokesperson.

The council previously gave Bear Runner the authority to issue emergency coronavirus lockdowns, Eagle said. She said Bear Runner communicated about Monday’s lockdown with the police chief, emergency director, vice president and some councilmembers.

Oglala Lakota County has 37 active coronavirus cases as of Wednesday morning, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. There has been no spike in cases since June 25 when 11 people tested positive. Since then, the daily number of positive cases has hovered between one and three. A total of 103 people have tested positive and none have died.

Bear Runner faced criticism from council and tribal members when he was arrested in May for allegedly driving while drunk and threatening a man. Bear Runner has pleaded not guilty and has a trial date set for the future, said Scott James, attorney general of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. ​

— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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