A South Dakota congressional candidate calling for an end to the Indian reservation system in the United States says the majority of people living on reservations are "victims of incest and molestation."
The campaign website of Neal Tapio, a Republican state senator from Watertown, refers to reservations as "soul sucking welfare dependence" and says that anyone who opposes reform and supports the current system "is racist."
“What we’re doing now is completely broken,” Tapio says on his website. “Tribal leadership is corrupt.
"The majority of people living on Indian Reservations are victims of incest and molestation that are destroying a second and third generation of people living on Indian Reservations, leading to suicide, violence and self-destructive patterns of addiction and hopelessness."
South Dakota has nine reservations and designated tribal land areas — more than any other state, according to the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance.
Tapio faces Dusty Johnson, a former South Dakota Public Utilities Commission member, and South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, in Tuesday's Republican primary for the state's only House seat. He is polling in last place.
The latest poll by KELO TV and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader of 625 registered Republican voters put Johnson ahead with 41 percent of respondents saying they would vote for him if the election were held today. Krebs landed at 23 percent, Tapio at 13 percent, with 23 percent undecided.
On his website, Tapio says the current system of reservations has "destroyed the futures of four generations of Indian children."
"To continue down the same path is simply wrong," he told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. "We need to address the system, not just the symptoms. We need to renegotiate the treaties that are holding down a once very proud people."
A federal Indian reservation is land reserved for a tribe or tribes under a treaty or through other agreement with the United States, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which says there are about 326 federally administered reservations in the country.
Some reservations consist of a tribe's original lands, while others were created by the government when it forcibly removed Native Americans from their homelands, the BIA says.
Tapio proposes breaking up the current reservations and awarding Native Americans federal block grants instead.
"I’m not saying that I have the answers, but I’m saying we have to start down (a) completely different path," Tapio told the Argus Leader.
He told the newspaper that he hadn't spoken with tribal leaders about his proposal.
On his website, however, he says that "when dozens of native leaders tell me that the ultimate goal of grade schoolers when they reach adulthood is simply to ‘be alive,’ it’s clear we need to declare an immediate state of emergency and find solutions to these problems.
“And anyone opposing reform and supporting the current system is racist. Because the outcomes are absolutely destructive and demotivating.”
Steve Emery, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Tribal Relations, told the Argus Leader that Tapio's proposal would be unpopular among Native Americans. Emery is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
"I know that both tribal members and tribal governments in the state would be very opposed to it," Emery said.
Tapio's proposal wasn't going over well on social media on Friday.