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State-Tribal Relations Board zooms in on education


Challenges are faced by schools everywhere – and each district is unique. South Dakota’s State-Tribal Relations Board received an update on the state’s reservation schools.

The State-Tribal relations committee is tasked with continuously studying the relationship between South Dakota’s government and tribal entities.

Sherry Johnson is the education director of the Sisseton-Wahpheton Oyate. She said tribal education efforts are forced to contend with a deep and complicated history.

“We’ve had several religion-based and government boarding schools in operation over the years to formally educate the children of the Oyate since the relocation of our tribal members to the Lake Traverse Reservation,” Johnson said.

Now, pair that with a challenge faced by just about every school district in the state – teacher shortages.

“Our schools all are advertising, they’re doing recruitment, retention, bonuses," Johnson said. "Our tribal schools can not compete with salaries on an equal playing level – but they do the best they can. We too are experiencing that teacher shortage.”

A committee was proposed for tribal and state-run schools to help close the ever-widening teacher shortage. No actions were taken on the proposal.

Along with that are the realities of education in rural settings. Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Education Director Cherie Farlee said don’t forget about reservation infrastructure needs.

“Even though the pavement here looks like this – at least you have pavement," Farlee said. "Where I’m from we have gravel roads, and our school busses have to travel those every day. Sometimes the roads are so bad we have to cancel. Not that our teachers aren’t there, but because we can’t get the kids to school with the conditions of the roads.”

Further, Farlee said additional dollars for operational maintenance is needed to make a difference for school buildings in tribal settings.

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