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Senate Committee Approves Creation of Oceti Sakowin Community-Based Schools


The Senate Education Committee unanimously passes a bill to allow for the creation of community-based schools centered on Native American language and culture curriculum.

The approval comes after a lengthy amendment process to bring the Governor’s office and Department of Education on board.

Senate Bill 66 provides for creation of community-based schools rooted in the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings—a set of curriculum concepts first approved by the South Dakota Board of Education Standards in 2011. The standards focus on seven core concepts that include culture, language, and sovereignty of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

Although readily available through the Department of Education website, the standards are not mandated in South Dakota public schools, and use is scattered.

Senator Troy Heinert of Mission is the prime sponsor of the bill. He and other proponents say creating community-based schools gives Native students a better chance for success.

“If we can reach these kids in a relevant, culturally appropriate manner, they’re going to come to school," says Heinert. "They’re going to see their place in the world. They’re not going to feel different. They’ll feel valued.”

A representative from Governor Kristi Noem’s office says concerns about teacher qualifications and accountability have been assuaged through collaboration in the amendment process. Secretary of Education Ben Jones also supports the new bill, and looks forward to working with the future schools and their sponsoring school districts.

Lobbyists for school administrator and school district groups remain concerned about the bill’s implementation, but members of the Senate Education committee agree something new needs to be done to address Native students’ needs.

Senator Jim Bolin of Canton says at the very least, the bill should receive a hearing in the full Senate.

“This is the first step in the legislative process," he says. "This is an issue too important to just bottle up in a committee. I think we should move this one forward.”

The rest of the committee agrees. The bill passes committee and moves next to the Senate floor.