South Dakotans overwhelmingly support teaching Native American history and culture in public schools

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South Dakota education officials have struggled to revise social studies standards that include guidelines for teaching Native American history and culture, but a new poll suggests residents of the government are very strong in their support for the inclusion of Indigenous studies in public schools.

The October poll of 500 registered voters in South Dakota showed that 88 percent of those polled were very or somewhat supportive of teaching Indigenous history and culture in South Dakota schools. The survey found that 6.4% of respondents said teaching Native studies was not too important, 2.6% said it was not important at all, and 3.2% were unsure.

[This story was originally published by South Dakota Media Watch on November 9, 2021. Read the original story. Republished by Native News Online with permission.]

The survey results come at a time when South Dakota’s public school system is grappling with how to update its social studies standards and improve civics and history instruction. The discussion of history to be taught in South Dakota public schools has raised concerns among some Native American groups that Native history is being reduced, eliminated, or whitewashed to ignore the historical and modern traumas suffered by many Native Americans, the largest minority group in the state.

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The poll results also come as the state Department of Education reported that less than half of educators in South Dakota schools are using Oceti Sakowin’s Essential Understandings and Standards, a set of approved concepts. by the state that provide a framework for the teaching of Aboriginal history and culture. . The 35-page set of lesson plans and teaching guidelines includes teaching aids on the history, culture, language, treaties, identity and way of life of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Sioux Indians, which constitute most of the indigenous tribes of the Dakotas.

A DOE survey of more than 700 educators in 125 districts found that only 45% of educators said they use Oceti understandings in their schools, and 9% of educators said their schools do not celebrate history in any way. or indigenous culture.

The statewide opinion poll was sponsored by South Dakota News Watch and the University of South Dakota’s Chiesman Center for Democracy. The telephone poll was conducted in late October by Mason Dixon, and the margin of error was plus or minus 4.5%. The poll is the latest effort in the ongoing “South Dakota Matters” series of community conversations and polls sponsored by News Watch.

The overwhelming support for teaching Native history and culture was good news for some educators in South Dakota.

John Little, director of Indigenous recruitment and alumni engagement at SHU, said better teaching of Indigenous history and culture will give Indigenous and non-Indigenous students a better sense of themselves. themselves and the world in which they live.

For Indigenous students, seeing their own history presented as part of the state’s history can be empowering, just as having their history ignored can be detrimental, said Little, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, who has grew up in South Dakota.

Jean Petit

“The fear of not teaching Indigenous history is erasing our culture,” said Little, who is teaching an Indigenous studies class at SHU this fall. “If you’re only taught certain things and you see that you don’t exist in the history being taught, it’s detrimental for students not to see themselves in their culture.”

For non-natives, learning about Indigenous peoples and culture will broaden their worldview, Little said, ultimately making them better people and, in a practical sense, more marketable in the workplace.

“It’s really important to get out of your worldview and learn about the culture and the history every chance you get,” he said. “It will only improve your job prospects and make you more marketable by learning different perspectives.”

Montana and North Dakota already require schools to include Native American education in schools. In 1972, Montana added to the state constitution a requirement to teach all students “the unique cultural heritage of American Indians,” noting that the state is “committed to its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity”.

Notes: Mason-Dixon poll conducted October 20-23, 2021; total of 500 registered South Dakota voters; margin of error +/- 4.5%

Little says the level of Native history taught in South Dakota public schools varies by region and district. His own public school experience in south-central South Dakota was spotty, he said.

In sixth grade, Little took a required South Dakota history class with an old textbook that he said didn’t include many references to Native history or culture. The book, he said, called the Wounded Knee massacre a “battle,” which Little said misrepresented what happened in southwestern South Dakota in 1890.

“It was a limited view of South Dakota history,” he said. “If 300 mostly unarmed men, women and children are murdered, it was clearly not a ‘battle’.”

But Little also took a Lakota language class in first grade at Winner High School in which he saw films about Native history and had to read a book by a Native American author.

“This course was important for me to see myself in the program,” he said.

Little said he had mixed feelings about proposals to make teaching about Indigenous history and culture mandatory in public schools.

While he is in favor of improved teaching of Native history, he worries that requiring districts to teach a course could result in a backlash.

“You have to find that balance because it’s important to have this program and these conversations about the traditional homelands that they live on, but if it’s force-fed people don’t like it,” he said.

Few said a good start in South Dakota would be to ensure that textbooks and materials used in classrooms present a fair and true history of Native Americans and accurately represent their culture.

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