Revised Social Studies Standards Perpetuate Colonialism, Discrimination of Indigenous Students

Everyone should have equal access to an education that includes learning the complete history of this country.

All young people should have equal access to an education that includes learning the complete history of this country, including the experiences and viewpoints of marginalized communities.

Unfortunately, in the United States, too many public schools fail to teach about diverse communities in their curriculum. For Native Americans, this disparity is even more stark. According to the National Congress of American Indians, 27 states make no mention of Native Americans in their K-12 curriculum, and 87 percent of state history standards do not mention Native American history after 1900.

South Dakota academic content standards serve as expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. But the latest set of social studies standards for South Dakota’s K-12 public schools are an example of ongoing colonialism and discrimination against Indigenous students and Tribes in South Dakota.

Next week, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards will be hearing public comment about the proposed K-12 social studies standards. The Sept. 19 meeting in Aberdeen will be the first of four meetings held across the state over a period of at least six months. In-person testimony and written comments will be accepted for each meeting.


Take Action

The proposed social studies standards are posted for public comment on the Department of Education’s website. Do you want to voice your opinion about the proposed standards? Submit your written comments to the Board of Education Standards no later than Friday, Sept. 16.


Revisions to K-12 content standards is a process that happens once every seven years. But for the social studies standards this time around, it’s taking a bit longer – and the process has been fraught with contention.

In 2021, more than 50 South Dakota teachers, museum experts, and professors spent eight days in Pierre drafting new standards for the state’s K-12 social studies curriculum. The working group’s draft recommendations included Native American history and culture – everything from Oceti Ŝakowiŋ stories in kindergarten to comparing and contrasting the structure of the U.S. government and sovereign tribal governments in eighth grade to studying tribal banking systems in high school.

But none of that was included in the draft of the social studies standards initially released by the Department of Education last year. Outraged by the “whitewashing” of the standards, nearly 600 people submitted public comment against these proposed changes last year.

In response, Gov. Kristi Noem announced she was relaunching the social studies standards revision process. The smaller workgroup, members of which Gov. Noem had a hand in appointing, was facilitated by William Morrisey, a former professor of Hillsdale College in Michigan who wrote the standards for the new committee to merely review and revise rather than allowing them to create the standards along with him

That brings us to where we are today.

While the initial workgroup’s standards provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to feel welcome, respected and encouraged to receive education relevant to their culture, similar to what White students already receive within South Dakota’s public school system. The revised set of standards, however, still fall short of the depth of Native American topics and Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings previously recommended, despite claims otherwise by the South Dakota Department of Education

Additionally, the revised standards violate the state’s obligation to first consult with the Tribal Governments under S.D.C.L. §1-54-5 and to obtain from tribes’ free, prior and informed consent when actions are taken that affect Tribes and their children.

The state has an ongoing affirmative duty and obligation to honor the treaties entered into with the tribes of South Dakota, and should not blatantly disregard the federal laws and U.S. Constitution recognizing tribal sovereignty. This includes the right of Tribes to provide direction and input for the education of Indigenous students who attend schools in the State of South Dakota. This obligation and duty were entirely ignored by South Dakota Department of Education which results in discrimination against Indigenous students and the Tribal Nations of our state.

Instead of engaging in meaningful consultation with Tribes to obtain consent to the revisions or adopting the Tribes’ recommendations, the perspective of tribal governments is glaringly absent. The revisions now include mandatory teachings about Christianity in a number and manner that could violate the State of South Dakota’s Constitution and the Establishment Clause.

The ACLU of South Dakota urges the Board of Education Standards not to accept the proposed social studies standards. 

READ OUR COMMENTS

The more South Dakota students can learn about our history – the good, the bad and the ugly – and the lessons it can teach us, as well as Indigenous perspectives, the better prepared they will be to tackle the inequities and injustices present in our communities. It will also foster acceptance of diversity and combat racial discrimination.

ACT NOW

The proposed social studies standards are posted for public comment on the Department of Education’s website. Do you want to voice your opinion about the proposed standards? Submit your written comments to the Board of Education Standards no later than Friday, Sept. 16.