A U.S. Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday from Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., that would repeal antiquated laws regarding Native Americans.

Rounds calls the bill the RESPECT Act (the acronym stands for "Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes"). The legislation would strike language from about a dozen places in federal laws that date to at least 1875.

One of the laws allows the government to remove Native American children from their homes and send them to boarding schools without the consent of parents or guardians. Another allows the government to force Native American men to perform labor in exchange for supplies and annuities.

After the Senate Indian Affairs Committee passed the bill Wednesday, Rounds issued a statement.

“Now that it has moved out of the committee, I’m looking forward to its consideration before the full Senate soon so we can finally remove these offensive, racist laws from the books once and for all,” Rounds said.

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He introduced a version of the bill in 2017 that passed the Senate but did not receive action in the House. This year, a version of the bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives, where Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., is a co-sponsor.

In a July 10 news release about the legislation, Johnson said, "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.”

The legislation would repeal laws that:

  • Authorize the president to revoke treaties with any Native American tribe that “is in actual hostility to the United States."
  • Prohibit the paying of money or annuities stipulated by treaty with any tribe that has engaged in hostilities against the United States.
  • Prohibit the paying of appropriations to any band of Native Americans that is “at war with the United States or with the white citizens of any of the States or Territories.”
  • Authorize the secretary of the interior to withhold money due to any tribe that holds any captives other than Native Americans.
  • Prohibit the paying or distribution of annuities, money or goods to Native Americans while they are “under the influence of any description of intoxicating liquor,” or whenever there is “any species of intoxicating liquor within convenient reach of the Indians,” or if chiefs and headmen of a tribe have not made sufficient efforts to prevent the introduction and sale of liquor.
  • Allow agents of the government to make supplies and annuities to Native Americans contingent on labor performed by Native American men.
  • Prohibit the delivery of goods or merchandise to the chiefs of any tribe that has violated a treaty.
  • Authorize the secretary of the Army to detail an officer of captain or lesser rank for special duty with reference to Indian education.
  • Authorize the secretary of interior to withhold rations and subsistence from the head of any Native American family with a child between the ages of 8 and 21 who is not in school, and from Native American parents or guardians who refuse or neglect to keep their children in school.
  • Authorize the commissioner of Indian affairs to withhold annuities or other payments to Osage children whose parents fail, neglect or refuse to keep them in school.
  • Authorize the commissioner of Indian affairs to place Native American children in an “Indian Reform School” without the consent of parents, guardians or next of kin.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."