Significant references to South Dakota’s First Nations people have been removed from the State’s draft social studies curriculum, despite a mandate to include more diverse perspectives in the updated standards.
Ten days after a working group submitted their final draft of the new curriculum, all but one of the 18 learning standards involving the Oceti Sakowin Oyate were cut out by officials at the South Dakota Department of Education.
The working group’s directives included a mandate for “incorporation of more diverse perspectives, especially those of Indigenous Native Americans“.
South Dakota is among the top five US States with the highest percentage of Native American people, and diversity was key issue brought up in public testimony since the standards were last updated in 2015.
It’s a move that Indigenous leaders have called Native erasure.
In a statement, Chair of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Harold C. Frazier, said the bureaucrats and politicians who commissioned the workgroup “gutted” the portion referring to Indigenous people.
“There is so much that must be taught to the children in order for them to understand the world they will inherit, and it begins with understanding of one another,” he wrote.
“Removing the important lessons of who we are, where we came from, and why things are the way they are robs young minds of the necessary understandings to overcome the hurdles of conflict, genocide, and historical trauma.”
Among the changes was the removal of discussions about the Oceti Sakowin Oyate Creation Story in kindergarten, replaced with directives that children should “recognise there are different people and cultural groups that make up South Dakota’s communities”.
In second grade history, discussing the culture of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate before European colonisation was changed to “using multiple sources, investigate the impact South Dakotans, including Indigenous Native Americans, had on United States and South Dakota history”.
In fourth grade history standards, explaining how the Oceti Sakowin Oyate was affected by “westward expansion, the creation of the reservation system, and the US assimilation policies and programs” was removed in favour of describing the “influences of various cultures on South Dakota communities”.
Mr Frazier said removing the shared history from the social studies curriculum would have a “disturbing” effect on Lakota children in public schools.
“Again, they will be relegated to the bad guy in every fantasy about the American conquest. Ignored will be our great leaders, culture, contributions, and our rightful lands,” he said.
“Our children were stolen from us in past generation, forcefully assimilated or secretly buried in boarding schools under the ‘kill the Indian and save the man” ideologies and it would seem that the task to erase them has not ended under Governor Kristi Noem’s administration and leadership.”
The draft curriculum is part of a regular revision of teaching standards, separate to Republican Governor Kristi Noem’s $900,000 initiative to create a new, state-specific civics and history curriculum resource.
A Department of Education spokesperson told Native News Online in an email that “the department made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public”.
By Sarah Smit