KEY POINTS

  • Multiple checkpoints were set up along the Cheyenne River Reservation to reduce the risk of a possible coronavirus outbreak during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
  • The Cheyenne Sioux River Tribe filed a lawsuit to uphold the checkpoints despite state and local officials challenging their legality
  • Residents have reported visitors for the rally have ignored most recommended coronavirus prevention practices

As thousands of bikers descended on Sturgis, South Dakota, for the annual motorcycle rally during the weekend, a Sioux tribe set up traffic checkpoints to prevent the spread of coronavirus on reservation land.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, part of the Lakota Nation, set up checkpoints along all major routes through the Cheyenne River Reservation leading into Sturgis. Reservation authorities said the checkpoints would allow commercial and emergency vehicles through, but nor noncommercial, out-of-state vehicles. Nonresident, noncommercial South Dakota vehicles are allowed through, but only if coming from a non-hot spot.

Federal and state authorities originally pushed back, calling the checkpoints illegal. However, tribal spokesman Remi Bald Eagle said the decision is in line with the tribe’s COVID-19 prevention policies and filed suit to keep the federal government from shutting them down. 

As of Monday, the Cheyenne River Reservation had 80 confirmed cases and one death from coronavirus. South Dakota accounted for 9,605 confirmed cases and 146 deaths.

The 10-day Sturgis rally has become a focal point of concern in the last week as some 250,000 people were expected to descend on the city of about 6,900 residents. Despite concerns over a potential outbreak, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem offered support for the rally on Twitter.

While Noem was seemingly positive about the rally, residents of Sturgis were not as enthusiastic. A city council survey in May indicated 60% wanted the rally canceled.

“There are people throughout America who have been locked up for months and months,” city manager Daniel Ainslie told CNN in explaining why the rally got the OK. “So we kept hearing from people saying it doesn't matter, they are coming to Sturgis. So with that, ultimately the council decided that it was really vital for the community to be prepared for the additional people that we're going to end up having.”

Some residents said they felt otherwise and accused city officials of not putting them first.

“This is a huge, foolish mistake to make to host the rally this year,” Sturgis resident Linda Chaplin told the city council. “The government of Sturgis needs to care most for its citizens.”

Residents' fears appear to have come true. Witnesses reported most attendees ignored recommended coronavirus prevention practices.

"In downtown Sturgis it’s just madness," bartender Jessica Christian said. "People not socially distancing, everybody touching each other. It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out."

Motorcyclists, some coming from hundreds of miles away, fill the streets of Sturgis, South Dakota, as part of a huge cycle rally Motorcyclists, some coming from hundreds of miles away, fill the streets of Sturgis, South Dakota, as part of a huge cycle rally Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Michael Ciaglo