ACLU of South Dakota Legal Director Stephanie Amiotte will speak about the lack of education equity for Indigenous students in the United States, particularly in South Dakota, in front of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, Switzerland, next week. The UN Committee will be reviewing United States’ periodic report on compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that was ratified in 1994.
Teaching students about contemporary Native American issues, about tribal nations, tribal sovereignty, culture, accomplishments of Native Americans and an accurate history of Native Americans and colonization effects will serve to break through the invisibility and stereotypes that perpetuate bias and racism toward Native Americans.
But this requires availability, access to and acceptance of Native American culture within the school setting – something that’s currently lacking throughout the United States. In fact, 87 percent of state history standards in districts across the country do not mention Native American history after 1900 and 27 states make no mention of a single Native American in their K-12 curriculum.
“Despite empirical data demonstrating the actions needed in U.S. schools to overcome education inequity, and to combat ethnic racism, more needs to be done to eliminate discriminatory policies and affirmatively require the types of education, curriculum and content standards that Native American students need to succeed,” Amiotte said. “Ignoring Native Americans’ contributions, innovations and accomplishments in K-12 education exacerbates harmful biases in generation after generation of Americans who grow up learning a false, distorted narrative about Native Americans. Our history must be accurately represented in every classroom.”
The report to the UN Committee comes ahead of the release of South Dakota’s revised social studies content standards. The initial standards, developed by a nearly 50-person working group in 2021 – which included South Dakota educators – provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to have their Indigenous perspective represented. This allows them 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. But when the state Department of Education released a draft of the proposed standards, the Department of Education had removed or altered most of the references to Native Americans that the workgroup proposed. Gov. Kristi Noem halted the process and restarted it with a new working group following significant criticism and outcry from South Dakotans across the state. More than 600 public comments, most opposing the Department of Education’s unilateral cuts, were made prior to the first public comment hearing.
The report to the UN Committee also follows the report published in May by the U.S. Department of the Interior that outlines the atrocities committed at the boarding schools designed and run by the federal government to eradicate Indigenous people. The report identifies 408 federal Indian boarding schools across 37 states that operated between 1819 and 1969 and has identified at least 53 schools with marked and unmarked gravesites. South Dakota had at least 31 of these schools.
The ACLU is asking the UN Committee, which consists of 18 international independent experts on human rights and racial justice, to recommend that United States require states take decisive enforcement action against discriminatory state laws, policies or agency actions that defeat and undermine Indigenous education equity, specifically raising the following questions during the United States’ delegation appearance before the Committee on Aug. 11-12:
- What new enforcement methods are being pursued since President Biden’s issuance of the October 2021 Executive Order to address states’ actions, policies and laws that censor and suppress Indigenous culture, curriculum, history and language from being taught in public schools?
- What specific actions does the U.S. plan to take to address ongoing traumas and discrimination that Indigenous students continue to experience as a result of the policies and laws adopted by some states who continue to promote assimilation and discrimination through educational systems?
- What specific actions does the U.S. plan to take to implement the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and that would broaden its interpretation of Tribal Sovereignty with respect to Indian education programs, curriculum and content standards, within both public and tribal schools, to advance education equity for Indigenous students?
Amiotte is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. A copy of the ACLU’s report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is below.
About the ACLU of South Dakota
The American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of civil liberties and civil rights. The ACLU of South Dakota is part of a three-state chapter that also includes North Dakota and Wyoming. The team in South Dakota is supported by staff in those states.
The ACLU believes freedoms of press, speech, assembly, and religion, and the rights to due process, equal protection and privacy, are fundamental to a free people. In addition, the ACLU seeks to advance constitutional protections for groups traditionally denied their rights, including people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit communities. The ACLU of South Dakota carries out its work through selective litigation, lobbying at the state and local level, and through public education and awareness of what the Bill of Rights means for the people of South Dakota.