S.D. Indian Education panel plans session to offer recommendations for annual report

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The head of South Dakota’s Department of Tribal Relations asked a group of Indian education leaders Thursday to hold a special meeting later this month and offer ideas for how Native American students could be better served.

David Flute said the state Indian Education Advisory Council by-laws call for an annual report to be delivered by October 31 each year to the South Dakota governor and the nine tribal governments. The recommendations would be part of the report, he said.

Council members agreed the meeting should be sometime during the week of October 15 and would send their date and time preferences. The state Office of Indian Education is without a director after Juliana White Bull-Taken Alive resigned.

“We are screening applicants at this time. Some recommendations will be pushed up to the governor’s office,” Flute said. 

Governor Kristi Noem transferred the office in January 2019 to Flute’s department. It previously was under the state Department of Education during the Rounds and Daugaard administrations.

The Legislature’s State-Tribal Relations Committee has been considering a measure for the 2021 session that would direct the governor to move the office back to Education.

Advisory council members voted 13-0 at their July meeting to put the office under Education again.

Flute and state Education Secretary Ben Jones serve on the advisory council. Governor Noem appointed both. Joe Moran, a member of Jones’ staff, is serving as a liaison for tribal education directors and for tribal and federal Bureau of Indian Education schools.

Flute said a Rapid City-based organization, Technology and Innovation in Education (TIE), is taking responsibility for administration of the Wookiye project that began this year.

A council member, Sarah Pierce of Rapid City, questioned whether TIE provided “authentic representation” for the project. Pierce is direction of education equity for NDN Collective.

Flute replied that TIE wasn’t taking a cultural role. “That would be under my supervision,” Flute, a past chairman for the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal government, said.

Flute, asked whether the advisory council had a role to play in selecting the next director for the Indian education office, said the director’s spot was vacant when he took office in January 2019, and out of courtesy and respect, he shared with some council members some of the names of applicants.

“The decision isn’t mine. It is the governor’s,” Flute noted about who makes the pick. The 2019 experience, he said, “wasn’t helpful.” Two-thirds of the council members who received the names weren’t very nice toward a couple of the candidates, and one-third were favorable to one, he said.

Pierce asked whether tribal educations directors could play a role in choosing the new state office director. She added that it “would be great” if the council could be included in the decision.

Later in the meeting, Pierce renewed her call to move the state office back to Education. Referring to her previous post as the Title VI Indian education director for the Rapid City school district, she said 69 different tribal nations had students in the Rapid City schools, not just the nine in South Dakota.

She said having the state office under the Department of Tribal Relations was “a form of contemporary segregation.”

Sherry Johnson, the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribal education director, said she too wanted the office returned to Education. She made the motion seeking the change at the July meeting.

As for recommendations, Johnson said that, in the past, the state directors brought proposals to the council and they jointly discussed what would go into the annual report. She challenged whether all council members understood the meaning of the agenda item that said “2020 Recommendations” and whether all knew the council’s by-laws.

Secretary Flute said suspended taking recommendations, so council members could talk with their tribal governments and school officials and come back for a special meeting. He said council members would be emailed Thursday afternoon the by-laws and state law that created the council.

The by-laws aren’t mentioned on the state webpages for the Office of Indian Education or on the council’s webpages.

Flute said his department’s role is to collaborate with tribes. “I think we’ve gotten way too far away from that,” he said.

A few minutes later, Flute said that he, his staff and the governor had tried “nearly every single day” to interact with someone from a tribal government. “I’m sorry, our tribal leaders are not engaging,” he said.

Flute said he would continue to try to get the tribes to respond. He said the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs calls hosted by regional director Tim LaPointe have had weak participation. Not one tribal leader from 17 tribes in the Great Plains region was on a recent call, and only the leader from a Nebraska tribe was on the call two weeks ago.

“I’m really frustrated, because I want to help,” Flute said. 

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