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Legislative Committee Supports Moving Office of Indian Education

SD State Capitol, Winter 2012
Cara Hetland
SD State Capitol

The State-Tribal Relations Committee wants the Office of Indian Education back as part of the Department of Education.  

Governor Kristi Noem moved the office to the Department of Tribal Relations early in her administration. Tribal education directors say the move created bureaucratic red tape. 

The Office of Indian Education focuses on disparities between Native and non-Native students. Sherry Johnson is the education director for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. She says the governor’s office did not consult with tribes before moving the office.  

“As one of the directors that sat for many, many hours in that Department of Education office, we developed a tribal consultation process that was approved for the South Dakota state. And that was just disregarded," Johnson says.  

Other directors say education issues take a back seat with the new arrangement. Dana Brave Eagle is the Tribal Education Agency Director for the Oglala Sioux Tribe. She says a department that focused on education for all students worked well.    

“We were trying to close that gap not only with test scores or curriculum or standards, but with relationships, which is very important in this state," says Brave Eagle. "And again I have to say, it feels like we’re being segregated” 

Some state officials support the current configuration with Indian Education as part of the Department of Tribal Relations. Department  secretary David Flute says the ongoing debate is “unnecessary.” Secretary of Education Ben Jones agrees.  They each submitted a written statement to the State-Tribal Relations Committee.  

Republican Senator Lance Russell is one of the committee members. He understands  the tribes’ frustrations.  

“What I perceived to be two or three sentences from the Secretary of Education in response to our request to have someone come and have a dialogue with the committee…I was greatly disappointed in that,” says Russell.  

Democratic Representative and Committee Chair Shawn Bordeaux supports returning to one state education department that includes Indian education. 

“You know, when you’re in Pierre versus when you’re in Pine Ridge, the view’s a little different. I kind of like listening to the boots on the ground, myself,” he says.  

The legislative committee unanimously recommends a bill to move the Indian Education office back into the Department of Education.