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Editorial: Congress should remove racist laws applying to Native Americans

Editorial: Congress should remove racist laws applying to Native Americans

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Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., speaks during a Senate committee meeting in February. Lankford is cosponsor of legislation to remove outdated federal statutes applying to Native Americans.

The U.S. Senate is moving forward to eliminate 11 archaic racist federal laws applying to Native Americans.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, a member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill offered by South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-4th District, has also endorsed similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

The targeted statutes are offensive relics of a paternalistic, racist past. They don’t reflect well on our nation’s history. Although they are no longer enforced, they should have been expunged from federal statutes long ago.

The laws to be removed include bans on paying Native Americans who are under the influence of intoxicating liquor and permitting forced labor and removal of children to boarding schools without parental consent, The Oklahoman reported.

The laws were based on racist assumptions that treated Native Americans as less than human and unfit for basic civil liberties.

Force labor is about as un-American as can be imagined.

The history of forced board schools still echoes through Native American culture. It was an intentional and ugly effort to wipe out native language and culture, a shameful, forced assimilation.

We agree with Lankford that the laws are an embarrassment to the nation, and it is past time for them to go. Doing so is a break from the past, but not a whitewash of our nation’s continuing responsibility to be honest about it.

The proposal passed the jIndian Affairs Committee last week with Lankford’s support and testimony. With committee approval, the bill goes to the full Senate for consideration. Similar legislation passed the Senate unanimously in 2019 but was never considered in the House.

That can’t happen again.

The full Senate and House should admit that the statutes are racist, wrong and unacceptable. They should send expunging legislation quickly to President Joe Biden, who should sign it into law.

The laws were wrong when they were passed, they’re wrong now and their continued presence in statute is negligent. They must be removed. And when they are expunged, there is something else in order: an apology.


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