South Dakota Restarts Review of Indigenous Curriculum After Protests

By: - October 27, 2021 12:00 am

The South Dakota Department of Education this week finalized plans to restart the process of reviewing social studies standards after protests erupted over deleted mentions of local Oceti Sakowin tribal history.

The standards will be reviewed again over the next three years with more chances for public comment, and lessons on the Oceti Sakowin will be available for any schools that want to teach them, the department said.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem said she asked for the delay to “bring greater balance and emphasis on our nation’s true and honest history” and for “additional voices to be heard.”

Almost 600 public comments blasted the deletion of Indigenous history lessons, part of Noem’s plans for “patriotic education.” Noem signed an executive order in July calling for state agencies to abide by anticipated legislation to “prohibit any curriculum that requires or encourages students to take positions against one another on the basis of race, sex, or the historical activities of members of a student’s race or sex.”

Many states have taken the opposite stance by including more material about Indigenous tribes in school lessons, as new U.S. Census Bureau figures show more people with Native ancestry than were previously recognized.

A draft of South Dakota social studies guidelines cut references to the local tribes and also removed some requirements to teach about conflicts between Indigenous and European settlers, such as deletion of an eighth grade requirement to teach “ways in which migration led to conflicts between Anglo-European and Native American culture.”

Many of the public comments accused the state of de-emphasizing historical abuses of Indigenous South Dakotans.

“If you are afraid to provide facts then you condemn future generations to make similar mistakes,” wrote one parent, Danyel Doolittle.

The new process approved earlier this week creates a new commission to study the social studies curriculum starting next month. Public hearings are planned in four cities between fall 2022 and spring 2023, with any changes taking effect in the 2024-25 school year.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.