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U.S. Senate Passes Bill Rescinding Outdated Laws That Target Native Americans

The U.S. National Archives

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed a bill repealing nearly a dozen outdated federal laws still on the books that target Native Americans. Though as KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius reports, none have generally been enforced in decades.

The RESPECT Act would rescind 11 laws, many of which were passed more than a century ago. One allowed involuntary labor for Native American men, and another legalized the forced removal of children from their homes to attend Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools.

"This ensures that Native American communities get the respect they deserve in federal law. The good news is that these 11 laws were no longer enforced but they continued to be a sad reminder of the hostile aggression that was displayed by the federal government towards Native Americans in the past," says Arizona Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a co-sponsor of the new bill.

The RESPECT Act would also repeal laws allowing the federal government to withhold services and funds from tribes and nullify treaties.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the U.S. government began forcing thousands of Native American children to attend off-reservation boarding schools for cultural assimilation. Many attendees describe years of sexual and physical abuse and trauma inflicted on them at the facilities.

Arizona Democratic Congressman Tom O’Halleran introduced a House version of the RESPECT Act last summer. It remains in committee.

Ryan Heinsius was named interim news director and managing editor in January 2024. He joined KNAU's newsroom as an executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.
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