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Crow Creek Chairman says state, tribes must do more to keep teachers in schools

Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek addressed the South Dakota state legislature on Thursday during the annual State of the Tribes speech.
Crow Creek Tribal Chairman Peter Lengkeek addressed the South Dakota state legislature on Thursday during the annual State of the Tribes speech.

The Crow Creek Tribal Chairman says more must be done to bolster education in rural parts of the state.

That’s one message he brought to lawmakers during the annual state of the Tribes address Thursday. Chairman Peter Lengkeek said the state and tribes have a shared responsibility to educate all children in South Dakota.

He said several things stand in the way of that, including access to food and educators.

“It is common knowledge that South Dakota suffers from a teacher shortage that has forced schools to hire long-term substitutes to educate our children," Lengkeek said. "We need to work cooperatively to find a way so that there are enough teachers for South Dakota schools, whether they are public, tribal or private.”

Lengkeek encouraged lawmakers to work with colleges, universities, and the Department of Education to find ways to increase the number of educational staff in the state.

South Dakota teacher pay is at 50th in the nation. The cost-of-living ranks in the mid-20's.

Representative Tamara St. John is a Dakota from Sisseton. The Republican lawmaker said part of the issue is also deals with infrastructure in both rural and tribal areas.

“We’re very much the same,” St. John said. “As far as supporting having great teachers. The fact that we don’t have housing. The fact that we don’t have infrastructure for housing. Those things are real. I can imagine that’s true with a lot of the rural areas.”

The Republican-controlled legislature is moving place to place $200 million into a fund for housing grants and low-interest loans. Seventy percent of those dollars will go toward communities with a population of less than 50,000.

Lengkeek also criticized the new social studies standards revisions for the state that were drafted by a professor from a conservative university in Michigan. The draft removed several references to Native American culture from the original.

“We’ve managed the revision process in a traditional manner for generations,” Lengkeek said. “Building on the knowledge of South Dakotans in the field of education and history. We can continue to do just that fine without outside influence and interpretation.”

The governor’s spokesperson, Ian Fury, disputes Lengkeek criticism about the social studies standards.

“Governor Noem’s standards represent the largest emphasis on Native American history of any proposed standards to date,” Fury said. “Commission members very specifically focused on the importance of incorporating Native American history.”

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.