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Native American Citizens Divided On South Dakota’s Social Studies Curriculum

Native American Citizens Divided On South Dakota’s Social Studies Curriculum


South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem introduced a new proposal for the state’s social studies curriculum she believes is more inclusive of Native American history. However, to some Native American educators and parents, the standards are simply a way to promote nationalism while pushing Indigenous history to the background. 

Opposing Opinions of the New Standards 

On August 22, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem released her new proposal for the social studies standards to be implemented in the state’s public schools. Her initial draft endured heavy backlash from Native American educators and conservatives, so Noem and a workforce of other individuals altered several details. 

According to Noem, the new social studies standards are free from “political agenda,” feature a “balanced approach to American history,” and incorporate more of a focus on Indigenous history. “South Dakota’s children deserve the very best social studies education in the nation,” Noem attests. 

Despite her optimistic view of the new proposal, a number of Native American educators do not share the same opinion. 

Governor Noem’s View on Social Studies in Public Schools 

Noem’s opinions on social studies in the public school education system have faced pushback in the past. 

For example, Noem rubbed some people wrong when she publicly advocated for the “1776 Pledge to Save Our Schools.” The initiative was a conservative drive that centered on the qualities of the country’s founders. While some viewed this as outdated, Noem and other supporters felt it provided an accurate picture of the country’s history. 

Further, Noem has also advocated purging critical race theory from public schools. Critical race theory is an academic idea that shows how racism is systemic in the United States and that numerous institutions maintain the dominance of white people. 

About Noem’s New Social Studies Curriculum

Noem’s new standards for the education system’s social studies standards allow her to promote a certain version of U.S. history. Still, although schools widely follow these standards, they are by no means mandatory. 

In terms of the actual content the curriculum contains, much of it portrays the United States as a country that has uniquely advanced rights for every race and gender. 

Additionally, various lessons sprinkle in Christian history, showing the religion’s influence on the nation’s leading figures and Western civilization. Overall, Noem’s social studies curriculum is meant to “foster a love of a country that, like any love, is not blind to faults.” 

In terms of Native American history woven into the curriculum, there are several elements. For example, the removal of the Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota people, major battles and massacres of Native American people, the effects of Indigenous boarding schools, and Native American leaders are some pieces of history included. 

Those Detesting the New Social Studies Proposal   

Much of the pushback on Noem’s new social studies standards for the state’s public schools comes from Native American educators and parents, as well as other minority groups. That said, this group of people argue that the curriculum’s goals further push a narrative that treats minorities unjustly. 

One individual advocating for these standards to be revised is Nick Tilsen, the president of the Indigenous advocacy group NDN Collective. Of Noam, Tilsen says, “Her approach in this curriculum further perpetuates ignorance,…racism, and white supremacy. These priority areas are dominated by nationalism.” 

Native American educators in South Dakota share a similar opinion, arguing that the standards push their history and culture to the background. Although Noem attests the curriculum is inclusive, others disagree. 

“The goal was to get away from inclusivity, to push an agenda that the Governor deems important,” director of the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition, Sarah White, argues. 

Native Americans in Support of the Curriculum 

Even though several Native American educators and individuals oppose Noem’s latest proposal, some don’t share the same feeling. 

One such example is Joe Circle Bear, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member. Joe Circle Bear assisted Noem and several other individuals in formulating the education materials incorporated into the curriculum. “Governor Noem promised to tell our story as part of American history, and these standards do that,” Joe Circle Bear says. 

Other supporters of the social studies standards argue that they present a fair representation of the country’s history.

One Republican State Representative, Sue Peterson, says the curriculum emphasizes “our founding documents, our pursuit of freedom, and treat our nation’s history honestly.” 

Things Going Forward 

Despite Noem’s excitement about the new proposal, it is by no means the final version. That said, the individuals against the curriculum plan to flood the upcoming hearings with opposing public comments to encourage revisions. 

Still, it’s interesting that Native Americans fall on both sides of this argument. Some are attesting they are a step forward because the curriculum promotes accurate elements of their history. However, others see it as a way to shed light on a specific political agenda promoting nationalism. 

Of course, promoting Native American history in public schools everywhere is critical. So much Indigenous history has been covered up or simply not mentioned in public schools. 

But when schools offer students an honest look at how the country was built, they can better understand history, Native American culture, and the government. 

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