The checkpoints include a questionnaire about where travelers were coming from and their destination. The tribe then uses the state health department’s website, which tracks community spread and hot spots, to determine whether to allow entry onto the reservation. Only six people have tested positive for the virus, and tribal officials credit the checkpoints for helping them track cases and any spread, said Remi Bald Eagle, the intergovernmental affairs coordinator for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
Mr. Bald Eagle said the health checkpoints had been crucial to minimizing the number of positive cases on the reservation, particularly given the lack of a statewide stay-at-home order. Last month, with the support of tribal leaders, the state of New Mexico blocked roads leading into the city of Gallup, on the edge of the Navajo Nation, in an effort to restrict the spread of the virus.
“We will not apologize for being an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” the tribe wrote in its lawsuit, which names Mr. Trump, Mr. Meadows, and other top White House and Interior Department officials.
Ms. Noem called in May for all tribes in South Dakota to end the checkpoints and “cease interfering with or regulating traffic,” threatening legal action if they were not removed and citing instances where nontribal residents struggled to pass through the reservation on state and federal highways.
The tribe contends that its sovereignty allows them to keep the checkpoints running and to operate them on the state and federal highways, one of its main points of dispute with Ms. Noem.
“This, however, is not simply a matter between a sovereign state and a sovereign tribal government,” Ms. Noem wrote in a letter to Mr. Trump. “The federal government has an interest in interstate commerce, transportation of critical infrastructure goods, provision of services from critical infrastructure industries and the uniform treatment of all travelers.”
Mr. Meadows, who represented some tribal governments while serving as a member of Congress from North Carolina, personally reached out in June to the tribe’s chairman, Harold Frazier, according to the lawsuit and phone transcripts obtained by The New York Times. He implored the chairman to reach a solution with state officials. “I can’t have checkpoints by individuals on federal highways,” he said, according to the transcript, before raising the $8 billion pot set aside for tribes in the stimulus law.