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Senate passes bill authorizing two Oceti Sakowin schools

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Democratic state Sen. Troy Heinert speaks about creating Oceti Sakowin community-based schools.

Senate lawmakers are passing a bill that creates and funds community-based schools centered on Native American cultural curriculum.

A similar proposal passed the chamber two years ago, but failed in the House. Supporters hope this year is different.

It’s the third year Senate lawmakers have voted on creating Oceti Sakowin community-based schools. "Oceti Sakowin" means "Seven Council Fires" and refers collectively to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

The proposal allows two school districts to sponsor an Oceti Sakowin school in the first five years if the bill becomes law. Those schools would be steeped in Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards.

The proposal is brought by Democratic state Sen. Troy Heinert, of Mission.

He says the proposal is meant to give Native American students an alternative educational experience.

“I’m just trying to give our kids a chance to learn in a culturally relevant manner and have that strong connection to who they are as an Indigenous person, but still gain all the skills and abilities to function in regular society as well,” Heinert says.

Heinert says misinformation killed the bill when it made it to the House two years ago.

The bill calls for a trial run of two schools, which is a reduction from bills that have come up in years prior.

Heinert says he expects results from two schools will prove more are needed in the future.

“We know that if we can get two schools going and we show the gains and the successes that we think we’re going to see, that number will grow,” Heinert says. “We just have to have the opportunity to do it.”

The bill now heads to the House.