HURON – Eleven federal laws no longer enforced, but discriminatory to Native Americans since the 19th century, should be repealed, S.D. Republican Senator Mike Rounds, R-S.D., and others said Thursday.
While the past can’t be rewritten, “this is one way to show understanding and progress,” he said in a conference call with reporters Thursday.
Joining him on what he describes as a ‘bipartisan, bicameral” bill are S.D. Rep. Dusty Johnson, as well as House and Senate members, from both sides of the aisle from Arizona and Oklahoma.
Known as the Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes (RESPECT) Act, it was introduced Wednesday.
Rounds said it was initially offered two years ago, but while it made it through the Senate the House version failed.
Two of the 11 laws threatened to hold back provisions to Native Americans if they didn’t show up for work where and when they were told and if they didn’t send their children to boarding schools.
The laws were in place when the West was a frontier and haven’t been enforced for a long time. They disregarded the Native American culture and language “which today we wouldn’t think about doing,” Rounds said. “Things have changed and we want them to change.”
He said because the laws are still on the books they are a “tragic reminder of past hostility and racism displayed toward Native Americans. We may not be able to rewrite the past, but we can continue to work toward furthering respect and unity for future generations.”
“We have come a long way as a nation,” said Johnson, “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.”
Asked whether the tribes were consulted on the legislation, Rounds said sponsors had support from the Great Plains Tribal Council in 2017 and expect strong backing once again with the reintroduced bill.
“They made recommendations the first time around on things they wanted changed and we took that into account as well,” he said.
He said the tribes have been very forthcoming and have offered their support on multiple occasions.
Meanwhile, he was also asked about a bill introduced in the House in late June that would rescind 20 Medals of Honor awarded to U.S. Cavalry soldiers who killed hundreds of men, women and children in the Wounded Knee massacre Dec. 29, 1890 at what is now the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Rounds said he has a staffer looking into that legislation. There is a lot of validity to the argument that those medals would not have been issued had the same criteria used today been in place, he said.
“What happened at Wounded Knee was a massacre, it was not a battle,” he said. “What happened at Wounded Knee is a real black mark on our nation’s history.”