‘We get the history of the conqueror’: Demands for resignation ahead of education content standards hearing

KELOLAND.com Original

UPDATED at 8:18

The South Dakota Department of Education has moved the meeting to October 25.

The meeting will take place at the Ramkota Convention Center in Aberdeen.


SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The first public hearing on South Dakota’s social studies education content standards will be held at Holgate Middle School in Aberdeen on September 20 at 9 a.m.

These standards have been a point of contention between state government and South Dakota’s Tribal communities and their allies. Changes were made to the proposed standards put forth by a work group comprised mainly of current and former educators from across the state.

The changes made revolve around the removal of references to Native American culture and history. This removal has been met with condemnation from South Dakota tribal leaders and educators and activists.

On Monday in Pierre, a march led by NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization, included calls for the resignation of several South Dakota officials. These officials are Governor Kristi Noem, Secretary of Education Tiffany Sanderson, Secretary of Tribal Relations David Flute and Director of Indian Education Fred Osborn.

Also on Monday, Gov. Noem posted a video to Twitter titled, ‘Some facts about the new proposed social studies standards.’ In the just over two-minute video, Noem states she wants an ‘honest and true accounting of history,’ and that she believes her Dept. of Education’s (DOE) proposed standards brings better balance between references to Native American history and South Dakota and U.S. history.

Tweet from Gov. Noem

However, Sarah White, Director of Education Equity for NDN Collective, says this proposal was not an ‘honest and true’ account of the history.

“We get the history of the conqueror,” she said. “Often times — all the time,” she continued, “it leaves an absent narrative that, unless you do your due diligence, unless you come from that absent narrative, it’s not going to be elevated to the forefront of conversation.”

Noem, in her video, defended the standards, noting that since being revised in 2015, the standards only made reference to Native American history six times. Her DOE’s proposed standards, she says, would reference this history 28 times.

White thinks that number — 28 — doesn’t tell the whole story.

“I think that number is very subjective,” she said. “When you actually analyze the contents that she’s speaking about, it’s not comprehensive to influence a very inclusive set of education standards that we’d like to see.”

While the call for the resignation of four state officials is perhaps the most attention grabbing demand made at the march, it is not the only one. Four other demands were also issued:

  • Make Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings & Standards explicitly inclusive within state standards.
  • Move the Office of Indian Education back under the Department of Education.
  • Honor South Dakota law and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), with regard to tribal consultation for the full inclusion of Tribal Chairmen & Tribal Education Departments in state decision-making impacting education.
  • Hold study session to enable opportunities for school choice specific to Indigenous education.

Oceti Sakoin is a term used to recognize tribal communities within South Dakota.

White says that Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings being explicit within the standards would result in increased cultural proficiency, resulting in a more well-rounded and well-informed citizenry.

Both the Governor and the DOE have noted that the standards are not yet finalized, and that input is welcomed. However, White says that despite attempts to reach out, they have received no response from the state.

“Upon publication of the proposed standards in the media and on the Department of Education’s website, members of the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition have in fact been reaching out diligently to Secretary Sanderson, to Secretary Flute and to Director Osborn, all with no response,” said White.

According to White, the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition is a convening space for tribal education leaders, teachers, school officials, practitioners and community members.

KELOLAND News has reached out to the DOE on two occasions, asking which employees were responsible for the removal of content from the education standards, but has not received an answer.

When discussing the demand that the Office of Indian Education be moved back under the DOE, White described what she sees as an ‘absent narrative’ in the conversation.

“It’s more than just the proposed content standards,” she said. “It’s the fact that South Dakota has been consistently and historically evading the responsibility of Indigenous education.”

In terms of moving forward, White says there is much to be done.

“We need to push for inclusion on all levels,” she said. “We need to do a better job in South Dakota pushing for equity. We need to be accountable to where we fall short.”

White says that when it comes to these issues, the burden of responsibility for indigenous education should not fall exclusively on indigenous shoulders.

“It needs to be a shared responsibility, and we all — as tax paying citizens — have a right to demand that prosperous education opportunities and outcomes are provided for every one of our citizens across the state,” White said.

Public input on the proposed standards can be given in person in Aberdeen on the September 20, or through a feedback survey, available here.

You can take a look at the original workgroup proposal here, and at the DOE’s revised draft here.

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