Published on Apr 26, 2023
On April 17, 2023, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards, in a 5-2 decision, voted to adopt new Social Studies standards. After a two-year transition period, the standards will be taught state-wide in the fall of 2025. The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) stand in solidarity with the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition (SDEEC) and the nine Tribal Nations of South Dakota in opposition of the revisions to the K-12 Social Studies Standards.
NIEA Executive Director Diana Cournoyer commented, “It is disappointing that South Dakota has rejected calls from Tribal Nations to engage in meaningful consultation and collaboration on standards that are important not just for Native students, but all students in the state. Tribal Nations have been vocal in their opposition to the proposed standards and have provided solutions to address state education leader’s concerns. Ensuring Native history and culture is accurately represented in South Dakota’s newly adopted standards will be difficult without consultation and collaboration with Tribal Nations. Despite these setbacks, we know our communities will continue to advance their educational goals and support the teaching of a full and accurate history of tribal communities in and around South Dakota. We hope South Dakota will learn from other states, like North Dakota, which recently passed Senate Bill 2304, ensuring Native history is taught as a requirement for high school graduation.”
NCAI President Fawn Sharp responded to the adoption of the standards, saying, “The state of South Dakota failed to adequately consult Tribal Nations before adopting standards that will not only greatly impact all Native children, but also affect how Native people are understood across the entire state. Now, not only will Native children be robbed of educational opportunities to learn about their history and heritage, but this week’s decision by the South Dakota Board of Education continues centuries of trying to erase Native people from history and make us invisible—but we are here, we are resilient, and we won’t rest until we ensure equitable and respectful treatment of all our peoples and all of our histories.”
Numerous South Dakota Educational Organizations, including SDEEC and the South Dakota Great Plains Tribal Education Directors called upon the South Dakota Department of Education to engage in effective tribal consultation and collaborate with Indigenous educators to ensure adequate representation of Native peoples and cultures.
In 2018, the South Dakota State Board of Education adopted the Oceti Sakowin standards, a set of essential understandings developed by tribal working groups. In 2021, a workgroup that included tribal representation and leadership presented a draft of standards that incorporated the Oceti Sakowin essential understandings throughout K-12. The new standards eliminated many of these earlier inclusions, and were adopted despite 1,137 comments in opposition, 121 comments in favor, and 37 neutral comments.
The new standards include only six, of more than one hundred total, that directly reference Native peoples. Under the newly approved changes, after a student exits the seventh grade, they will encounter only two standards that directly reference Native peoples during the final five years of their public education.
NCAI and NIEA urge all educational standards be developed with meaningful consultation with Tribal Nations in order to halt the continued marginalization of Native voices and history.
About the National Indian Education Association:
The National Indian Education Association (NIEA) is the nation’s most inclusive advocacy organization advancing comprehensive culture-based educational opportunities for American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians. Formed by Native educators in 1969 to encourage a national discourse on education, NIEA adheres to the organization’s founding principles - to convene educators to explore ways to improve schools and the educational systems serving Native children; to promote the maintenance and continued development of language and cultural programs; and to develop and implement strategies for influencing local, state, and federal policy and decision makers. For more information, visit www.niea.org.
About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) is the oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the United States. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies. NCAI promotes an understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people, and rights. For more information, visit www.ncai.org.