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Whitewashing or Progress? Protestors, Noem Duel over Indigenous Content of K-12 Social Studies Standards

The NDN Collective and the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition organized about a hundred people to march in the rain in Pierre Monday to protest the Noem Administration’s ideological whitewashing of South Dakota’s draft K-12 social studies curriculum standards. Echoing language used by the NDN Collective in its initial August criticism of the objectionable changes, Cante Heart, Native outreach and field director for the South Dakota Democratic Party, said marchers seek to “stop the erasure of our people in the Indigenous history and the history books.”

The Governor responded with a Twitter video saying she hasn’t been a part of the revision of those standards but wants “an honest and a true accounting of our history.” She says twice that the current standards refer to Native American history six times, while the proposed standards as revised by her Department of Education August 5 refers to Native American history 28 times.

Counting independent instances of the terms Native American, Indigenous, tribal/tribe(s), and Oceti Sakowin in the standards themselves and not the explanatory material in the DOE draft, Noem’s tally is correct. The tally of references to Indigenous people, history, culture, and government in the original draft created by 46 actual educators is 59. So is Noem Administration filling the standards glass almost five times fuller than it used to be, or is it dumping out over half of what the educators proposed?

NDN Collective director of education equity Sara White throws her B.S. flag at the Governor:

Governor Noem can’t gaslight us into thinking she has any intent to provide South Dakota’s students with an accurate history of our people…. Her implication that increasing ‘references’ of Native peoples in the newly proposed standards will provide a more honest account of our people is false, dangerous, and deeply offensive. Her own— very recent—history of blatantly railing against anything that doesn’t uplift white settlers as heroes speaks for itself.

Noem’s repeated emphasis on obscuring the truth from our youth under the guise of fostering love for one another is an insult to their capacity to hold complex emotions. We believe Indigenous students have the right to see their ancestors represented in the classroom to continue to heal from generations of harm, and white students armed with accurate information of our shared history will have a greater chance of doing their own necessary work to reckon with the past and behave differently from their forefathers.

All of South Dakota’s youth deserve—and need—to be taught the truth, if we are to heal wounds that are still open, and move forward together in real community and solidarity [link added; Sara White, quoted in NDN Collective, press release, received by DFP 2021.09.16]

The Department of Education was going to start public hearings on the proposed social studies standards and revised standards for vo-tech and fine arts next Monday, September 20, here in Aberdeen. But the day after the Pierre protest, the Department of Education postponed the Aberdeen meeting for five weeks, until Monday, October 25, and moved the meeting from Holgate Middle School to the Ramkota. DOE also announced they’ll hold a public hearing on the standards in Sioux Falls on November 15 at the Instructional Planning Center at 201 E. 38th St. Hearings in Rapid City and Pierre will take place in 2022.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-09-16 12:04

    I guess Kristi will definitely want to include Robert Carter III. He freed over 500 slaves by manumission in 1791, 74 years before the Civil War. He was buds with both Washington and Jefferson. While Washington was trying to track down escaped slaves and Jefferson was having babies with his Carter was helping his freed slaves establish themselves to create wealth for their heirs. I’m sure she will make this man have at least a needle carved in his likeness and a mention in the textbooks.

  2. Jake 2021-09-16 12:36

    Mark, don’t hold your breath on that one! Krusti Kristi will do anything in her power to give LESS attention, not MORE to anyone or anything that will put a minority in a better light or position of enlightenment in our society. She, like most Republicans reads the data on elections too. They are losing big time because of their trumpist and self-interests making them less and less appealing to the electorate. They haven’t won but one presidential popular vote (2004) in 2 decades or more, and the white race they cling to is shortly going to be in a minority. We currently see how the Republicans mental anguish at being in the minority drives them like a herd of lemmings over the cliff–concentrating mostly on being AGAINST anything put forth by the majority party because it’s not their idea.
    Where’s this great health plan of a few years ago they talked about?
    Aren’t those “death panels” the GOP fretted about their own Covid deniers and antivaxxers today that are dying right and left as they beg in the ER for a shot of Ivermectin or horse-wormer?
    And are we callous by thinking “good riddance” when their most prominent anti-vaxxers and covid deniers meet their demise by Covid?

  3. cibvet 2021-09-16 13:19

    Jake–The answer to your last question would be a resounding ‘NO’. They were given a freedom choice and they made their freedom choice.

  4. Donald Pay 2021-09-16 15:02

    The answer to your question is “NO.”

    If it was just being stupid, not getting vaccinated, then getting covid and dying, it would be unfortunate. We are all stupid from time to time on health and safety matters. To me, that is not the issue.

    The issue is that these people get covid, then pass it on to others, who now run risk of death. They are vectors of a deadly disease. Generally, we try to eliminate such vectors. Covid is not diabetis, where you can choose to be stupid if you want to risk death, and not pass it on to others. So, yeah, I hope they die fast, so they don’t pass on the disease to others, particularly children who are too young yet to be given the vaccine.

  5. kurtz 2021-09-17 08:35

    One reason Republicans don’t like Common Core history standards is that the curriculum long-ignored by textbooks includes genocide and near-extermination of American Indians by European colonialism. In South Dakota white people steal money slated for American Indian education and murder their families when the jig is up then place a complicit attorney general at the head of the investigation. Native journalist, Tim Giago has even called for a boycott of South Dakota.

    In 1980 attorney Mario Gonzalez filed the federal court case stopping payment of the Black Hills Claim award to the Oglala Lakota Nation. Gonzalez contends that the commission charged to make peace with tribes inserted language into the Fort Laramie Treaty signed in 1868 that Red Cloud had neither seen nor agreed to in negotiations. After the defeat of the 7th Cavalry at Greasy Grass in 1876 and the Great Sioux War Congress abrogated that treaty in 1877 and the Utes, Lakota, Arapaho, Cheyenne and others who migrated, lived and hunted all along the Front Range were driven into concentration camps.

    In 2019 during an episode of The Keepers, a podcast produced by the Kitchen Sisters and NPR, the lead Archivist at the National Archives told listeners lawyers are combing the records for treaties with tribal nations none of which have been honored by the United States.

    Despite the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862 that distributed unceded lands in the public domain to raise funds for colleges.

    Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish in South Dakota schools? Sure, that’s cool; but learning where students are steeped in American Indian languages is giving the next generation of Natives opportunities to preserve their heritage.
    When Kristi Noem was in the legislature she had an intern in a foot cast go start her car in a blizzard. You really think she composes her own tweets?

  6. Porter Lansing 2021-09-17 19:20

    Explicit and accurate history makes white people feel guilty.

    Liberals can handle that emotion and think of ways to set things right.

    Conservatives can’t abide by personal guilt, deny accurate history, and work to eliminate it from schools by claiming whites are the real victims.

  7. Donald Pay 2021-09-17 21:04

    Porter, I think the problem is people don’t feel much at all about historical events. I’m not sure that an explicit and accurate history should make anyone feel strictly guilty. It should make them feel empathy, pride, disgust, wonder, happy, sad, the whole gamut of emotion, including, yeah, guilt. Mostly they should learn lessons from history. I think of one member of my extended family who drove a wagon of food from Mankato. MN, to the Fort Thompson to feed the Dakota Indians shipped out there following the uprising in Minnesota. Hero or villain? I used to think he was a hero to go all that way to keep people from starving. Now after reading history about that effort, and how a lot of the food was spoiled and some stolen, I feel that things were not quite so simple. Was he a cog in a genocidal machine, just trying to make a living by driving spoiled food out to the reservation, or a good man trying to help people on the edge of starvation? I used to think that latter. Now I think it’s more likely he was just trying to make a living by being a cog in something he thought was a mercy mission, but was also part of a plan that was ethnic and cultural cleansing. To get from hero to a more complicated understanding of my forebear means I understand people can fool themselves about being a good guy when what they were really doing, even if they didn’t know it in full context, was awful.

  8. O 2021-09-20 12:16

    Mike, wow. That National Review is a Rube-Goldberg machine, piecing together a guilt-by-association condemnation of the new standards. Yet somehow it never quite makes its point that there is a specific or are several specific standards that are objectionable; every condemnation is under the umbrella of “CRT” — the right’s new catch-all boogieman. There is no gotcha conclusion that newly adopted standard “x” says . . .

    My takeaway is this line from the article: “The cynical interpretation of all this is that Noem cares more about splashy public promises than about governing.” I would levy a similar criticism on the author.

  9. mike from iowa 2021-09-20 13:13

    “The cynical interpretation of all this is that Noem cares more about splashy public promises than about governing.”

    That fits Noem Nothing like a velvet glove, O.

  10. mike from iowa 2021-09-20 13:54

    Next bad idea Noem will try, from York Pennsylvania……

    Let’s ban books about Rosa Parks, Sesame Streets town hall on racism and any books about POC, so whuite snowflakes won’t grow up feeling shame of their whiteness. Students aren’t taking this lying down.

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