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Push For Native American History In South Dakota Schools


The results of an October poll conducted in South Dakota show the public is firmly in favor of teaching Native American history in public schools.

In a survey of 500 registered South Dakota voters, 88% of respondents were either very or somewhat supportive of incorporating Indigenous history and culture in schools. Furthermore, the state conducted the survey because the public school system struggled with how to update and improve its social studies material. 

Teaching Indigenous Culture In South Dakota 

Despite the progressive steps South Dakota is taking to update the way schools teach history, there are concerns amongst the Native American communities. Primarily, Indigenous citizens want to ensure the material is prepared correctly.

Otherwise, they fear Native American history will be reduced, whitewashed, or eliminated. As the largest minority group in South Dakota, Native Americans expect the new material addresses both the historic and modern traumas their people have suffered. 

Although South Dakota’s Department of Education (DOE) already has a state-approved framework for teaching Native American history and culture, it’s hardly used. Therefore, the recent poll only emphasizes the push school systems need to implement this framework.

It’s not enough to simply have it available. Currently, the DOE’s framework includes lesson plans and instructional guidelines that teach Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Sioux Indian history, culture, language, treaties, identities, and ways of life. 

Benefits & Cultural Impact Of Accurate History Lessons 

Implementing accurate lesson plans about Native American history and culture in public schools can empower Indigenous students. John Little, the director of Native recruitment and alumni engagement at USD, says these programs only enhance the school system.

As a Standing Rock Sioux Tribe member, Little explains that when their history is overlooked, it can be damaging. “If you’re being taught only certain things, and you see that you’re not existing in the history being taught, it’s detrimental for students to not see themselves in their culture,” Little argues. 

In addition to Indigenous history having a powerful effect on Native Americans, it serves equal importance for non-Native students. For example, learning about such matters expands non-Native students’ worldviews.

Ultimately, Native American history can make them better people and more marketable in the workplace. “It’s just really important to get outside your worldview and learn about culture and history whenever you have the opportunity,” Little says.

According to South Dakota’s recent poll, the need for Native American history and culture in the education system is vital. By doing so, Indigenous students can feel more accurately represented and empowered. On top of that, non-Native students expand their worldview and make them more well-rounded people.

Hopefully, South Dakota including Indigenous history and culture into the school system can have a ripple effect on surrounding states to do the same. 

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