Governor Kristi Noem’s vaunted Executive Order 2022-02 only pretends to ban critical race theory from K-12 schools. The order won’t do what she’ll tell her fearful racist base it does; it will only give her one more reason to bark on Fox News, stir her supporters, trap her opponents in the culture war, and distract everyone from her miserable policy failures.
But if we have to have this fight over Noem’s abuse of critical race theory as a campaign slogan, Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Harold Frazier is ready to fight. He issued a statement yesterday branding Noem as a dictator bent on denying truth and controlling thoughts:
On April 5, 2022, the Governor of the state of South Dakota has made it clear that the United States is not responsible for any of its actions. In true dictator fashion she is forbidding the educators of our children to hear, speak or discuss critical issues that would enable our future generations to solve the problems in which we have failed.
I condemn the recent executive order issued by the Governor of South Dakota for all the polished ugliness that it represents. I can go on being critical of the statement but I would like to tell you what it means for us. The style of leadership which dictates thought and restricts educators from encouraging critical thinking is not the leadership my people deserve.
This executive order [PDF] is divisive and contributes to the very political indoctrination that it professes to prevent. Under the cover of great virtue, the Governor is promoting a great evil by dictating the thoughts of our teachers and children.
This may earn her the title of champion to those who believe that the people are not responsible for their nation but as we have seen on the other side of the world when the people can claim ignorance of their governments actions, the government can attack other countries and commit atrocities. We must be critical of our leadership and own our governments as that is the everyday work of democracy.
Any law or order meant to restrict our freedom to teach and learn is a restriction on freedom.
This executive order tells every minority in the state of South Dakota that you do not care what you have done, what you are doing or what you will continue to do.
The truth must be taught and told. Hecetu elo [Chairman Harold Frazier, statement, posted on Indianz.com, 2022.04.07].
Noem’s executive order may prohibit the Department of Education from engaging Chairman Frazier as a speaker in any teacher trainings or curriculum development committees, but it doesn’t stop local school districts from inviting Chairman Frazier and other tribal leaders to speak to their students about tribal history, racism, and the proper role of critical thought and expression in a democracy.
Update 12:25 CDT: While Governor Noem issues a defense of her order titled “The Lessons of History” (hilarious, since the Governor is trying to deny access to real history lessons), the NDN Collective joins Chairman Frazier in critiquing Noem’s political ploy as deceptive and racist:
“Noem’s executive order is yet another move that tragically diminishes the capacity of our young people to see difficult historical truths with empathy,” said Sarah Manning, Director of Communications at NDN Collective. “We need leadership whose actions ensure all of our youth will have enriching learning opportunities that prepare them for a transformative future. This executive order does the exact opposite, setting our children back and undoing generations of victories from civil rights leaders, Native educators, and policymakers in South Dakota and nationwide.
“Noem is doubling down on the continuation of white supremacy, which flies in the face of the collective good. Time and again, her policies perpetuate a legacy of racism in a state where Indigenous people already suffer daily racial assaults in both covert and overt ways.”
“Kristi Noem’s attempt to cut opportunities for historically accurate education is a way to further perpetuate the systemic racism Indigenous people are fighting,” said Sunny Red Bear, NDN Collective Director of Racial Equity. “Right now, we are being forced to respond to an act of overt racism by the owner of the Grand Gateway hotel – a developing situation where ‘good Native, bad Native’ language recycled from the past has emerged from the woodwork yet again, demonstrating how much more work we have to do in South Dakota and beyond.
“Noem is misconstruing the purpose of the Civil Rights Act – which was meant to address inequities, discrimination, and racism that communities of color were and are facing – to double down on white privilege. Noem’s order speaks to her blatant attempts to use Indigenous people as scapegoats to further her own political advancement.”
“Critical Race Theory has never been taught in K-12 classrooms but rather in higher education, specifically law courses,” said Mary Bowman, NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN) fellow. “It is deeply disturbing that creating false issues just to promote white supremacy is a priority for Governor Noem, while the educational system of South Dakota continues to fail our Indigenous students.
“Noem has made her intentions clear, from the revision of the Social Studies curriculum last year that attempted to further erase the history and impact of the Indigenous people that walked this land first, to her nonsensical executive order this week. Indigenous students need to see themselves in what they are learning to understand who they are and where they come from. This helps to heal the trauma caused by the compulsory boarding schools our ancestors were forced into – a historical trauma our young people still carry today. Our wakanyeja need healing” [NDN Collective, press release, 2022.04.07].