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South Dakota tribes voice opposition to social studies standards


As public hearings on the social studies standards continue, a broad group of people have expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed standards as written.

Educators and activists representing South Dakota’s Native community are joining other teachers and school administrators in rejecting the proposal.

Sherry Johnson is the education director of the Sisseton Wahpeton tribe. She said many are unhappy with the role the Native community is slated with.

“For a great part, all of Native Americans are portrayed as warlike, and Native Americans are made to feel embarrassed about that role – that’s when Gov. Noem says she doesn’t want divisive, but that is itself divisive to Native American people," Johnson said. "The right to vote is missing for Native Americans, the Native American Religious Act – you know that was only passed in ’78. These things are huge.”

Johnson said the state's educators are already shaking their heads.

“They’re saying it’s impossible – impossible to teach this the way it is," Johnson said. "We have such a teacher shortage in South Dakota, and nobody wants to come and be teachers anymore, and this is one of the reasons why. You know what my biggest fear is? Is that she’s (Noem) just going to push this through regardless of how much opposition.”

Another group, the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition, supports the call to reexamine the standards. Sarah White said state officials haven’t been listening.

“Our state director of Indian Education is not upholding the narrative of all nine tribes in their opposition to the proposed social studies standards," White said. "In fact, director Fred Osborn has offered proponent testimony despite all nine tribes’ opposition.”

Gov. Kristi Noem’s office referred questions to the Department of Education. The department has not responded to a request for comment.

The final public comment hearing for this round of standards will be held April 17 in Pierre.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture