The Legislature eagerly passed Senate Bill 46, the transgender athlete ban, and Governor Kristi Noem made it the second bill of this Session signed into law, even though this bill is a solution searching too hard for a problem, and even though school boards and the activities association have been managing what little issue there may be to transgender student participation in sports with their own policy for years.
But throw legislators solutions to real problems creating real unfairness for South Dakotans—racist mascots and team names insulting Native kids and their heritage, old-timey place names offending American Indians in general, institutional practices subjecting all Native South Dakotans to systemic colonialist oppression—and the Legislature is more than happy to resist statutory remedies and leave it to local officials to handle the issue.
The House Education Committee yesterday killed House Bill 1183, Representative Shawn Bordeaux’s proposal to outlaw mascots and team names offensive to American Indians. The school boards opposed the bill, saying they and the activities association already have a statewide resolution opposing such offensive mascots. That resolution, adopted by the South Dakota High School Activities Association in 2016, cites evidence of real harm from racist depictions of Native Americans in schools but still only “encourages” member schools “to consider not using any stereotypical Indian imagery and Indian mascots that cause harm.” But that soft encouragement was enough for all the Republicans on the committee to rediscover their love of local control and vote 12–2 to kill HB 1183.
Across the hall, House Education rejected another bid to remove racially charged names from South Dakota’s culture as it killed House Bill 1144, Representative Bordeaux’s effort to put “scalp” alongside “squaw” as a name banned from South Dakota place names. Without any opponent testimony and without a word from any Republican about why they didn’t want to take this step, the committee killed HB 1143 on an 8–3 vote.
In that same single hour, House State Affairs yesterday also rejected House Bill 1140, which would have allowed American Indians to use their tribal identification cards to register to vote; House Bill 1143, which would have required the Legislative Research Council to provide two hours of training in Native American law to all new LRC staff and make that training available to legislators; House Bill 1147, which would have fined businesses $500 to $1,000 for refusing tribal identification cards as valid identification to cash checks and conduct other commerce; House Bill 1146, which would have given subpoena power to the State-Tribal Relations Committee; and House Bill 1151, which would have directed the Department of Labor and Regulation to gather data and publish annual reports on employment and income on each Indian reservation and each county wholly or partially within reservation boundaries.
So the day after the Governor does her national hoopla dance in the Rotunda to sign one bill addressing a fake threat to fairness, the House massacres seven bills that address real, practical challenges to fairness for American Indians in South Dakota. Our commitment to “fairness” is barely skin deep—and we’re talking the very thin skin of Kristi Noem and the other white folks in charge.