Brandon Ecoffey: Republican lawmaker goes after the most vulnerable in Indian Country

Indian pride in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Photo: Hamner Fotos

Targeting the poor
By Brandon Ecoffey

Lakota Country Times Editor

It isn't a stretch to say that the vast majority of people living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation do not agree with the the absurdity of Rep. Elizabeth May's (R-27/Kyle) legislative proposals.

Earlier this month, the Dakota Free Press blasted May for attempting to revive a bill that would require the Department of Social Services to randomly test about 2% of TANF (cash welfare) recipients.

May would make her case for the need for testing by mentioning the horrible incident that took place outside of Kyle where two young girls were found starved by their guardians.

The simplest response to May's proposal is that it is unconstitutional to single out the poor for drug-testing without having any reason to do so. The constitution still protects all citizens from unwarranted search and seizure. Just because a person is poor, doesn't mean that these rights go down the drain. To most people this makes perfect sense. To May, and other conservatives, it is simply common practice to attempt to subject poor people to an entirely different set of rules.

If we were to make the law fair shouldn't there be language included in the bill that would allow for the drug testing of all ranchers and farmers who receive subsidies from the government? Or how about for those elected to public office?

May fails to mention that the grocery store she owns in Kyle makes a killing by selling truck loads of sugary and corn based processed foods to a community that has some of the highest rates of diabetes in the entire country. The grocery store that May owns also sells tobacco. We know that tobacco causes cancer. We also know that our people suffer from addiction to tobacco at rates higher than the national average.

If May really cared about these kids living in the community she represents, wouldn't it make sense to also stop selling these products that are known to eventually kill them?

Instead of reviving a bill that would result in the implementation of a proven failed public policy let's instead focus on finding a way to bring fresh and affordable produce to reservation residents. Any of us who have shopped at a reservation grocery store knows full well that products are more expensive there than at stores located outside of our borders.

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As a state representative Elizabeth May could search for a way to reduce these prices considering her experience in this specific industry. Can we find tax breaks for these businesses? Can those delivering produce to the reservation benefit from state sponsored subsidies that could bring down these prices?

We need innovation from our elected officials and not an effort to create legislation that has proven to be ineffective.

(Brandon Ecoffey is the editor of The Lakota Country Times and is an award winning journalist who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and earned his education at Dartmouth College. He can be reached at

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