2018-06-14 / Voices

Racism and Bullying


Based on population, South Dakota is a small state. But when our elected officials and candidates for office espouse racist or outlandish proposals, our proportional representation on the national news is dramatically increased.

Two recent news items illustrate this case. The first of these to hit the news was when the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported that a candidate for South Dakota’s lone congressional seat is advocating for the abolishment of all American Indian reservations. In a May 31, 2018 report, Neal Tapio, a Republican state senator from Watertown who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, claims that “the majority of people living on reservations are victims of ‘incest and molestation’ leading to welfare dependence, despair and high suicide rates.”

Mr. Tapio’s causal chain of reaction, apparently, is that 1) reservations somehow cause American Indians to commit incest and molestation of other American Indian residents of reservations, which 2) leads to American Indians being poverty-stricken, which 3) results in widespread despair among American Indians, thereby 4) causing an increasing number of American Indians to take their own lives.

By this logic, if reservations are abolished, then incest and molestation will cease, poverty will disappear, people will be happy and suicides will end.

Tapio admits he hasn’t spoken with tribal leaders about his proposal. He also accuses “current and former state employees” of lining their pockets with monies intended to address the needs of American Indians in reservations. But instead of advocating for prosecuting the perpetrators of these criminal acts, Tapio attacks the victims and their land bases.

Another South Dakota Republican state lawmaker was in the news recently with regard to racist statements. This time it was Michael Clark, a state representative from Hartford, reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that a Colorado baker could refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader, in a June 5, 2018 article, reported that Clark wrote on his Facebook page that if the baker “wants to turn away people of color, then that(’s) his choice.”

The way Clark interprets the case, a “gay couple” is equivalent to “people of color.” Therefore, even though federal law prohibits it, he believes that business owners have the right to turn away people of color. Clark’s statement clearly supports discrimination based on race, yet when confronted with this fact, he wrote to an Argus Leader reporter that “I would never advocate discriminating against people based on their color or race.”

Clark’s failure to acknowledge his racist statement is not unique in the South Dakota legislature as is evident by Tapio’s assertion that the majority of American Indians living in reservations are incestuous molesters. This same attitude is evident in the recent Bennett County Commissioners’ resolution which asserted that the majority of American Indians living on Indian trust land were criminals and therefore blamed American Indians for the county’s alleged financial difficulties.

Clark believes that when people of color stand up against discriminatory businesses for their legal rights as American citizens, they are “using their minority status to bully a business.” Apparently, he does not see his proposal to strip all minorities of their legal rights as a bullying tactic, not to mention being against federal law. Similarly, Tapio and the Bennett County commissioners see no reason, when advancing proposals that directly impact American Indians and Indian tribes, to consult with American Indian representatives.

Instead of unilaterally making decisions that negatively impact or portray American Indians and Indian tribes, perhaps elected officials in South Dakota would better serve all residents by enacting policies that prohibit racist behaviors by members of their decision-making bodies.

Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies CAIRNS is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

*The Center for American Indian Research and Native Studies is an Indian-controlled nonprofit research and education center founded in 2004 and located in the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

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