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Despite Delay, Tribal Opponents of SD School Standards Won't Let Up

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Wednesday, September 22, 2021   

PIERRE, S.D. - While South Dakota hits the reset button on updating social studies standards for schools, tribal groups opposed to the plans say they'll keep pushing for inclusion.

This week, Gov. Kristi Noem asked the state's Department of Education to delay implementing the standards for up to one year. The latest version of the plan has seen public backlash over removing several references to Oceti Sakowin history and culture, among other topics.

Sarah White, director of education equity at NDN Collective and lead facilitator for the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition, said a long pause isn't exactly a sigh of relief. She said she feels it allows the state to "kick the can down the road" rather than address a lack of Native American teachings.

"This was another clear evasion of responsibility," she said, "for Indigenous students, for inclusion, for anything of that nature."

White said it falls in line with Noem's past actions, including shifting the Office of Indian Education to the Department of Tribal Relations. The coalition will pursue legislation to move those duties back to the education department, and press for a fair process for developing curriculum. The proposal also was criticized by far-right groups, who argued conservative voices were silenced.

White said what's happening in South Dakota is part of a broader and long-standing failure to tell a more robust story of Native American history in classrooms.

"We haven't, as a nation, admitted or even faced the truth of what happened with Indigenous people," she said.

In neighboring Montana, state officials face a lawsuit over claims the curriculum there about Native American history fails to meet constitutional requirements. In South Dakota, Noem's order for a delay didn't specify what exactly prompted the action, but said more public input is needed. The plan, released in August, differed from a draft proposal put together by a working group earlier in the summer.


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