New changes to the South Dakota K-12 curriculum have eliminated Native American history from required standards, making it possible for a child to graduate without relevant knowledge about the struggle of the Lakota and other tribes to retain their ancestral land, or their survival in the face of repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide.
Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, high school students will have the option to choose from early American history, Modern American history, or comprehensive American history to fulfill their only history requirement. As a result of these standards, the Colonial Era, the American Revolution, African slavery, Manifest Destiny, the Civil War and the Women’s Suffrage movement will no longer be a part of required curriculum. While some students will still have the option to take Early American history, many will graduate without understanding these important historical events that continue to affect this nation.
Professors at Dakota State University, University of South Dakota, South Dakota State University, Northern State University, Augustana University, Presentation College, the University of Sioux Falls and Black Hills State University, have all criticized the new curriculum. They argue that students will not be prepared for college level history courses with such a weak high school class schedule. Ben Jones, dean of arts and sciences for Dakota State University in Madison, as argued that the new standards are “disabling their citizenship”.
However, the endemic problems with South Dakota’s new education policy go further than properly preparing students for postsecondary education and raise concerns about how depriving students of historical context could compound racial iniquities in a state that is increasingly known for its racial practices toward Indians.
Racial attitudes toward Native Americans, often resulting in outright discrimination, continues unabated in South Dakota. This virulent strain of prejudice is perhaps most clearly demonstrated by the unjust and despicable practices of the state Department of Social Services against Lakota families, who face much higher rates of child removal and much lower rates of family reunification that non-Native families, even when poverty is accounted for.
The removal of lesson plans relating to the long and complex conflict between Native peoples and the United States Government will only exacerbate this issue, and make it harder for young people in South Dakota to develop a fair understanding of the historical context and causations for the current conditions faced by Native peoples.
Instead of eliminating early American History classes, so necessary to the proper development of informed citizens, the state of South Dakota should be aggressively creating programs about Native history and culture. The only way to develop future solutions to the problems afflicting Native and non-Native in South Dakota, is for all citizens to have a baseline understanding of the historical antecedents to those current problems.
Teach the children about Squanto and the Patuxet Indians, who aided the first Colonists in Massachusetts. Teach the children about how the Iroquois Confederacy was the first democratic institution in what is now known as the United States.
Teach the children the wisdom of Sitting Bull, who said “White people are good at making things, but very poor at distributing them. Teach them about the Ghost Dance and massacre at Wounded Knee, the Sand Creek Massacre, and other genocidal acts.
Teach them about the Trail of Tears, the theft of vast tracts of Indigenous land, much of which was sacred and has since been sullied by extractive industries seeking wealth and personal enrichment.
Finally, teach the children that all of these abhorrent policies have created the current situation, where Indians are relegated to second class citizens in a land that is rightfully theirs. Teach the children they have a noble obligation to remedy this dreadful circumstance and honor the cultural diversity that continues to inhabit this nation. Teach them that Native Americans are still here, as a strong and dynamic part of modern America.
The rich history of their culture and people deserve official recognition at the high school level in South Dakota. Anything less is an ill-advised attempt to willfully keep a segment of population ignorant, so in their studiously designed stupidity they are better equipped to accept and tolerate blatant injustice. South Dakota can and should do better. Much better.