03.19.21

Rounds, Smith Lead Bipartisan Push to Repeal Outdated, Discriminatory Laws Against Native Americans

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Tina Smith (D-Minn.), both members of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, have reintroduced the Repealing Existing Substandard Provisions Encouraging Conciliation with Tribes (RESPECT) Act. 

The RESPECT Act would repeal a number of outdated federal laws that are discriminatory against Native Americans. Examples include laws that allow for the forced removal of Native American children from their homes to be sent to boarding schools and laws subjecting Native Americans to forced labor.

“Throughout history, Native Americans have been subjected to federal laws that are offensive, immoral and outright racist,” said Rounds. “In many cases, these laws are more than a century old and do nothing but continue the stigma of subjugation and paternalism from that time period. Clearly, there is no place in our legal code for such laws. The idea that these laws were ever considered is disturbing, but the fact that these laws remain on our books – is at best – an oversight. While we cannot rewrite the past, we can help write a better future for generations to come. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass the RESPECT Act this session of Congress.”

"This is about justice for Native communities in Minnesota and across the country," said Smith. "The fact that these racist, shameful laws still exist is yet another sign of the federal government’s failure to live up to its treaty and trust obligations. There is much more work we need to do to reckon with our country’s history of disparaging, disrespecting, and erasing Indigenous communities, and this bill is one of many steps we must take. I will continue to lift up the voices of Minnesota’s Ojibwe and Dakota nations, its urban Indigenous population, and all the sovereign Tribal Nations across the country as Congress works to right these past wrongs and strengthen the government-to-government relationship going forward."

Joining Rounds and Smith in reintroducing this bill are cosponsors: James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The RESPECT Act is supported by the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association (GPTCA) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

“We thank Senator Rounds and his co-sponsors for their leadership in bringing forward the RESPECT Act to eliminate the outdated, substandard, and anti-Indian measures from the era of Indian wars and cultural oppression,” said Harold Frazier, Chairman of the GPTCA and Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “Please move this bill forward to enactment.”

“The RESPECT Act is common sense legislation that is long overdue,” said Oglala Sioux Tribe President Kevin Killer. “Wopila to Senator Rounds for his leadership in reintroducing this legislation that seeks to bring reconciliation, understanding, and healing to Native communities nationwide. These revisions are much needed and appreciated.”

Rounds first introduced the RESPECT Act during the 114th Congress, where it passed out of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. During the 115th and 116th Congresses, the legislation passed the Senate unanimously but failed to receive a vote in the House.

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