Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) introduced the “Repealing Existing Substandard Provision Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes Act” or RESPECT Act in April 2016 in an effort to remove outdated Native American laws from the books. The act passed the Senate Indian Affairs Committee in September 2016 unanimously, but the Senate ran out of time on its calendar last year, so Rounds is pushing for full passage this year, reports the Washington Examiner.
There are a total of 12 Native American laws Rounds is looking to expunge, among them is a 1906 law allowing for the forced removal of Native American children to be sent to boarding schools. It says that “the consent of parents, guardians, or next of kin shall not be required to place Indian youth in said school.”
“This represented a time in our culture in which we were trying to take the Native American culture away from them and were trying to force on them European culture,” Rounds told the Washington Examiner. “Many of them shouldn’t be on the books in the first place, and the first step in reconciliation and bringing back good will is to take these laws and eliminate them.”
Another of the laws, dating back to 1875, allows the withholding of money or goods to Native Americans to are deemed “under the influence of any description of intoxicating liquor.
There is also an 1875 law requiring forced labor in exchange for “supplies” from the federal government. “For the purpose of inducing Indians to labor and become self-supporting, it is provided that, in distributing the supplies and annuities to the Indians for whom the same are appropriated, the agent distributing the same shall require all able-bodied male Indians between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to perform service upon the reservation,” the law states.
“These statutes are a sad reminder of the hostile aggression and overt racism displayed by the early federal government toward Native Americans as the government attempted to ‘assimilate’ them into what was considered ‘modern society.’ Clearly, there is no place in our legal code for such laws today,” Rounds said on his website.
Rounds’ home state of South Dakota is home to nine tribes and some 75,000 enrolled tribal members, and he sees the futures of all his constituents being tied together.
“We cannot adequately repair history, but we can move forward,” he said of reconciliation on his website.
“The idea that these laws were ever considered is disturbing, but the fact that they remain part of our legal code today is, at best, an oversight,” Rounds told the Washington Examiner after the act’s committee passage. “The laws that we are identifying here have no value today whatsoever.”