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Native Currents: The state of South Dakota v. Indian tribes: Economic racism

The history of South Dakota and its relationship with the Indian tribes within the state is one of shameful economic and social racism. The 1960s and ’70s brought a great deal of pressure on the people of the state to deal personally with issues of social racism, and there has been a lot of progress made in that area. However, the state government, under the leadership of Bill Janklow for many years and now under Mike Rounds, supported wholeheartedly by an extreme right-wing Legislature, has maintained a severe form of economic racism on the Indian tribes which in and of itself provides support to those individuals who continue to practice social racism upon Indian people.

The reservations in the state are beset with social and economic problems, the type of problems that are not allowed to thrive in towns and counties of the state. It is true that tribal governments are problematic, there is corruption and mismanagement of resources, but many people see this as a direct result of a lack of relationship with state government, and the direct result of extreme poverty and need. There is no structural socio-economic relationship with the state that would benefit either party. When Janklow was in office, his standard response to requests for help from tribes was that the federal government was responsible, not him or the state of South Dakota. Unfortunately, Rounds has taken that very position, although he has made a better public relations effort in inviting “elected” tribal people to his mansion for dinner and gone to a few tribes and collected a few star quilts.

It is very important for those uninformed people in the state to know that Indians pay the same federal taxes that non-Indians pay, and the same state taxes, with the exception of property taxes (which are dedicated to education in the state), and that with 25 percent of the state population being Indian we receive less than 1 percent of the billions of federal tax dollars that the state of South Dakota gets back from the U.S. Treasury. If you want evidence of economic racism, just take a look at the state budget for federal tax receipts and how much of that gets back to the tribes and tribal members.

When Rounds was elected, many tribal people hoped that he would embrace the tribes within the state with some meaningful programs to develop the type of economic improvements that need to be made. He has done nothing except stop the tribes from expanding their only successful economic business, which is gaming. What would happen if a non-Indian farmer in the state was doing well and wanted to buy more land to expand his farm? What would happen if the banking and credit card industry wanted to expand their operations, creating more jobs and tax revenues for the state? Does anybody seriously think Rounds or the state Legislature would prohibit them from expanding?

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It is an idiotic policy that Rounds and the state Legislature has embraced, one that denies the tribes the opportunity to grow their industry to meet market demands. Maybe the tribes in the state should join together and operate a lottery that would compete and draw down revenues that the state so badly needs. Rounds, with support from the state Legislature, has denied tribes of their basic rights as citizens to share equal rights and protections under federal and state law. This is racism, no matter how you look at it.

<i>– George Wilson

Pine Ridge, S.D.