PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The state Office of Indian Education should be returned to the state Department of Education, a panel of South Dakota legislators unanimously recommended Thursday.
The Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee took the action after hearing tribal education directors support the reversal.
Governor Kristi Noem had moved the office to the state Department of Tribal Relations two years ago through an executive order.
The Legislature’s Executive Board will decide whether the legislative proposal would move forward from the committee for the 2021 session. House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, and Senate Democratic leader Troy Heinert of Mission serve on both panels. An individual legislator also could sponsor a bill.
The state Indian Education Advisory Council met at the same time as the legislators Thursday. The council had voted unanimously in July to reverse the governor’s decision. Among its members are representatives from each of the nine tribes that have reservations in South Dakota.
The Noem-appointed heads of the two departments didn’t attend the legislative committee meeting Thursday. Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute sent a letter defending his department’s performance. He is a past chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.
“It is unnecessary to continually debate this issue when we have native students struggling during this pandemic and we all need to get back to focusing on the vision and mission of the Office of Indian Education,” Flute wrote.
Education Secretary Ben Jones sent an email saying he was scheduled elsewhere.
Sherry Johnson, the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal education director, called again for the reversal Thursday. She serves on the state advisory council.
Johnson presented documents (1, 2 and 3) that summarized the office’s history under past governors Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard and said the focus hasn’t been on education since Noem relocated the office to the Tribal Relations Department.
“That’s what it feels like: We got pushed out,” Johnson said about Noem’s decision. “There was no consultation with the tribes.”
Dayna Brave Eagle, tribal education director for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, supported Johnson and provided a resolution from the OST council.
“There seems to be a double standard when it comes to the state for when they want a consultation,” Brave Eagle said. She said her working relationship with Secretary Flute was “great” but thought education “takes a back seat” to other important issues.
“It feels like we’re being segregated,” Brave Eagle said.
Voting to seek the reversal were Senate Republicans V.J. Smith of Brookings, Phil Jensen of Rapid City and Lance Russell of Hot Springs; House Republicans Tamara St. John of Sisseton, Tony Randolph of Rapid City and Haugaard; House Democrats Shawn Bordeaux of Mission and Peri Pourier of Pine Ridge; and Senate Democrats Red Dawn Foster of Pine Ridge and Heinert.
St. John, Bordeaux, Pourier, Foster and Heinert are tribal members. Bourdeaux chairs the committee. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature, and Noem is a Republican. Bordeaux said the proposed bill potentially has “a lot of political ramifications.”