PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota Republicans U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds and U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson are teaming up with Arizona and Oklahoma legislators to introduce to Congress a bill that would repeal federal discriminatory, anti-Native American laws that are no longer enforced, but remain on the books.
According to a Wednesday, July 10, news release from the bill sponsors, the so-called RESPECT Act would repeal what legislators said are 11 outdated laws that provide avenues for anti-Native American discriminatory practices such as mandatory attendance at boarding schools, removal of Native children from their homes and forced labor.
Rounds said in Wednesday's release that though the laws are no longer enforced, keeping them on the books "is a tragic reminder of past hostility and racism displayed toward Native Americans," and that passing the RESPECT Act is "but one way to show understanding and progress."
On a Thursday, July 11, conference call with the media, Rounds elaborated that in the United States' earlier days of westward expansion, laws were passed as means to "integrate (Native Americans) into our culture, but we also wanted to eliminate their culture."
He said the laws send "a message about the attitude that we had and about how we basically disregarded their culture, their language."
In Wednesday's release, Johnson said, “It’s no secret, America’s past is flawed," and that, "we have come a long way as a nation, but there is always room to improve."
"Repealing these archaic laws is one way we can show Indian Country the dignity and respect it deserves," he said.
Rounds said the Senate passed an earlier version of the bill in 2017, but it died in the House. This year, though, Rounds said he is "optimistic we’ll be able to get it across the finish line."
He added that during the bill's original drafting two years ago, the prime sponsors consulted with tribes and were backed by the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, among others.
"One thing we don't do a very good job of sometimes is consultation," Rounds said. "So we tried to be very careful that we did consult with the tribes with regard to these part items and they were very forthcoming."
Spokesperson for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Chase Iron Eyes said that while the legislators' efforts are "genuine" and legislation like the RESPECT Act is positive for U.S.-Tribal relations, "There are other ways we can also improve these relationships."
"Sometimes when congresspeople talk, they talk as if all of those very disgraceful indicators of our relationship (between the United States and tribes) are in the past tense," he said.
For starters, Iron Eyes suggested an "overhaul of federal Indian affairs" to rebuild diplomacy and trust between the nations.
"It's so good that (the RESPECT Act) is happening, but its part of our evolution," he said. "There are certain issues we would be remiss if we did not mention."