PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A state government panel that focuses on Indian education in South Dakota wants schools to show their curriculums reflect Native American culture.
The Indian Education Advisory Council recommended Monday that the state Department of Education have each school provide a statement that the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings are taught. The statement would be part of a school’s accreditation process.
State government began recognizing the essential understandings, known as OSEUs, in 2011.
But a recent survey found that 27% of teachers who responded said they assessed students’ understanding of them and 30% of administrators who responded said they assessed teachers’ use of them.
Brian Wagner, representing the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, proposed Monday that accreditation include a statement that a school has been using OSEUs in the school’s curriculum. He said tribal education directors consider OSEUs important.
“I do think it would answer a question we do not have the answer to directly,” Fred Osborn, director for the state Office of Indian Education, said.
Other council members liked it, too.
“It would appear to be a step forward that we haven’t had before,” said Jacqueline Sly, a retired special-education teacher from Rapid City. Added Cheryl Medearis of Mission, who’s academic vice president at Sinte Gleska College on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, “This would at least be a beginning place.”
South Dakota legislators haven’t specifically required that OSEUs be taught. The most recent attempt failed after its first committee hearing in the 2022 session. Instead, what South Dakota does have are criteria that are somewhat indirect.
Another state law says the state Department of Education shall consult with the Indian Education Advisory Council within the state Department of Tribal Relations to develop and review the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings.
A third state law requires that most teachers take a three-credit course in South Dakota Indian studies.
Council member Sherry Johnson, representing the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribal government, called for the council to be the selection committee for the process of revising and updating OSEUs.
Sly agreed with the suggestion but said more people might need to have roles. “I think it would be hard to have the council be the only ones involved in that decision,” she said. The former president of the state Board of Education Standards added that she’d be “more comfortable” having state Department of Education staff involved.
But Johnson said she had “a bad taste in my mouth” after the department’s actions in the revision of social-studies standards that is underway. Sly tried to add a DOE amendment, but there was no second. Johnson’s proposal was adopted on a voice vote, with one vote against.
Johnson also wanted the council to review any proposed changes to OSEUs after the revision committee completes its work but before the draft goes to public comment. That recommendation won unanimous approval.
The council called for the state Department of Education to conduct research regarding Native American students’ attendance and absenteeism and to also report on best practices for keeping students coming to school. “We’ve got to start at the big side and keep channeling down,” Johnson said.
The recommendations will be part of the council’s annual report to the governor. The council will meet once more in 2022 to review and adopt the report.