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Tamara St. John Helped Write Book on Critical Race Theory

Speaking of actively promoting critical race theory in South Dakota

Dr. Susan Burch professes American studies at Middlebury College in Vermont. “Her research and teaching interests,” says her college bio, “focus on histories of deaf, disability, Mad, race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, and gender and sexuality. Material culture, oral history, and inclusive design play an important role in her courses.”

The Society for Disability Studies honored Burch in 2019 for a “legacy of mentorship that has brought new scholars into Disability Studies and… expanded the impact of Critical Disability Studies.” Critical Disability Studies challenges ableism the way Critical Race Theory challenges racism; the two fields overlap in theory and practice:

Ableism and resistance to ableism is central to the tradition of critical disability theory (Campbell 2008b). To conceive of its importance, consider the parallel to racism: racism and anti-racist work is a necessary and indisputable part of the tradition of critical race theory, regardless of how racism is understood and framed. But, it would be wrong to consider ableism as an additive to sexism and racism. Instead, theorizing ableism is part of a “critique of the dominant order, the other, or alterity” (Goodley 2009).

Critical disability theory is a diverse set of approaches that largely seek to theorize disability as a cultural, political, and social phenomenon, rather than an individualized, medical matter attached to the body. In this way, it shares goals with traditional disability studies. But, additionally, critical disability theory actively seeks alliances and has produced work in conversation with other key areas of critical thought: critical race theory, postcolonial theory, queer theory, and Continental philosophy, among other strategies. It also reflexively considers the exclusions, framing, and normative presuppositions of disability studies, favoring intersectional approaches and expansive inclusion. Critical disability theory presumes that those persons to whom the label “disability” attaches share in overlapping and intensifying oppressions with pathologized and devalued persons in circumstances not readily recognized as “disabled” (Minich 2016) [Melinda C. Hall, “Critical Disability Theory,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2019.09.23].

Burch’s research on the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, presented in her 2021 book Committed: Remembering Native Kinship In and Beyond Institutions, exemplifies this intersection of disability and race studies by examining the racist/colonialist claim that all American Indians were “mentally defective and in need of containment.”

The book Tamara St. John helped write.
The book Tamara St. John helped write.

Burch lectured on her book at the Canton Public Library on July 30. In a script for a version of her book talk presented at the University of Pittsburgh on January 19, 2022, Burch explains combination of discrimination against race and disability that underlay the oppression wrought at the Canton Asylum, with the specific example of Prairie Band Potawotami healer O-Zoush-Quah, a women imprisoned in Canton for two decades:

Acknowledging multiple sovereign nations and systems of medicine resists what American studies scholar Jessica Cowing calls settler ableism. Ableism is a system of power and privilege that hierarchically organizes people and societies based on particular cultural values of productivity, competitive achievement, efficiency, capacity, and linear progress. Settler ableism actively serves and reflects broader colonial values and aspirations. Imposing settler forms of medicine and knowledge practices represents one way settler ableism functions. [To ground this idea: the BIA and Asylum Superintendents, drawing on culturally specific concepts of normality, fitness, and competency, evaluated O-Zoush-Quah’s actions: pathologizing her alleged “temper” (being “cross” and sometimes yelling) and multiple attempts to snatch nurses’ keys, to her use of “profane and vulgar language” (which likely described her primary use of Potawatomi since O- Zoush-Quah knew very little English)]. The labels in O- Zoush-Quah’s medical files, like others detained at Canton, varied widely in each instance (illustrating the malleability of diagnoses and diagnostic labels), but they all shared the foundational belief that Indigenous bodyminds were inherently deficient. In this cultural framework, ‘problems’ were located within individuals; solutions focused on the individuals and required “experts,” such as social workers, clergymen, and Western biomedical doctors. This self-affirming cycle validated continuous state-sponsored surveillance and containment [Susan Burch, “Institutional Racism: Remembering Struggle, Survival, and Resistance at the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, 1092–2015,” access script for book talk at University of Pittsburgh, 2022.01.19].

Burch’s statement about a “system of power and privilege that hierarchically organizes people and societies” sounds dangerously similar to the “divisive concepts” that Governor Kristi Noem is crusading to cleanse from our schools. That reference to “cultural values of productivity, competitive achievement, efficiency, capacity” sounds like the “hard work ethic” that Governor Noem has sought to insulate from any “critical race theory” critique.

Burke thanks many descendants of Canton Asylum inmates, tribal elders, historians, archivists, and librarians for helping her do the research necessary to produce this book, including Tamara St. John of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe.

Tamara St. John, who also happens to be a Republican legislator seeking reëlection, helped Susan Burch write a book studying the oppression of American Indians at the Canton Asylum from the perspective of critical disability theory and critical race theory.

Tamara St. John, whom Governor Noem appointed to help rewrite South Dakota’s K-12 social studies curriculum standards, helped write a book on critical race theory.

Tamara St. John is thus actively promoting critical race theory, something Kristi Noem has said disqualifies a person from public office.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Governor Noem would support a tribal archivist who is actively promoting critical race theory in South Dakota. Governor Noem herself has actively practiced critical race theory in her acknowledgement of the racist, colonialist history of America’s concentration camps for Indian children. But the active promotion of critical race theory by Noem and her favorite tribal legislator makes it hard to take seriously Noem’s attempt to use critical race theory as a derogatory label against her opponents.


  1. John 2022-09-04 09:48

    A couple miles north of Noem and St. John’s abodes, UND “found” over 70 human remains “stored” in cardboard boxes in campus archives.
    It appears it was an outstanding and timely thing that UND belatedly changed its mascot/nickname.

    Search for missing Native artifacts led to the discovery of bodies stored in ‘the most inhumane way possible’
    “Lyons met Alberts to help advise her on how to respectfully handle the items, watching as they opened box after box. Lyons said she feels naïve now thinking back on it, but she never expected what they found: More than 70 human remains, many of them in boxes with no identifying information.

    “The best way I can describe how we have found things is in the most inhumane way possible,” Lyons said. “Just completely disregarded that these were once people.” ”

    Yeah, dripping sarcasm, we don’t need to teach CRT or divisive concepts. . . .

  2. 96Tears 2022-09-04 10:35

    The Noem administration will go down in history with the reputation similar to what they said about the Seinfeld TV series. It was a show about nothing.

    A generation from now, aspiring young women will wonder what the first woman governor in South Dakota got accomplished. The answer is nothing. Even with the legislature 91 percent Republican and every statewide office occupied by Republicans, the answer remains nothing.

    There is so much nothing that Noem is forced to invent phantom issues to claim victories and to smear her opponent. A mailer my neighbor received this weekend proves the point. The three big issues Team Noem accuses Jamie Smith of being on the wrong side are:

    1. “Critical Race Theory in schools”
    2. “Men compete in women’s sports”
    3. “Confiscate guns”

    Worse, the Lt. Governor’s recent TV ad, “Fighting to Protect South Dakota,” also spotlights phantom issues as defining victories for Team Noem:

    1. “When the powerful came after your job and your kids, Governor Noem and I fought back.”

    2, “When they tried to shut down small businesses we stayed open and our economy thrived.”

    3. “When they tried to put boys in girls sports, we passed the strongest law in the nation to stop them.”

    4. “And when they came after our kids with critical race theory, we blocked their propaganda.”

    Listening to that leaves us wondering who the hell is “they”?

    Which boys tried to play in girls sports in South Dakota? Name one incident of CRT being pressed upon our kids. Just one, Kristi and Larry. You’ve made the claim again and again. Where is one shred of proof?

    “We blocked their propaganda.” What propaganda, other than Team Noem’s oft-repeated lies? Who is “their”?

    Who was “the powerful” who came after my kids and my job? Donald Trump? He was president while Kristi was AWOL during the worst pandemic in a century. If she stuck around and did her job, she might have realized there was no “they.” There was a killer virus, but Kristi chose to do nothing. Nearly 3,000 South Dakotans died because they caught the highly contagious virus. Noem’s response was to do nothing and to set the worst example possible by refusing to mask up and by encouraging folks to go to public events without protecting themselves.

    She called it “freedom.” Normal people call it cowardly and malicious neglect.

    But back to the point. Nothing. It’s what Kristi Noem does.

    When she narrowly defeated Billy Sutton four years ago, Noem thought all she needed her was good looks to slide past Sutton. When that didn’t work, she got Billy’s neighbors to slander him in Noem’s slam ads. That was dirty, slimy and underhanded. But that is Noem’s true nature when the chips are down: Dirty. Ask Marty Jackley.

    Apparently, Noem is concerned she can’t slide through another election. Earlier this summer, a crowd of 1,000 mostly under-30 angry women were marching up Phillips Avenue in Sioux Falls and chanting, “F#ck Kristi Noem!! F#ck Kristi Noem!! F#ck Kristi Noem!!” I don’t think there’s ever been an elected official in South Dakota history who’s been the object of such vehement hatred as what folks saw that evening in the street.

    No wonder Noem didn’t wait until Labor Day to go dirty. What’s laughable is her re-election message is all based on nothing. Not an ounce of substance. It’s Noem’s signature image: Nothing.

  3. DaveFN 2022-09-04 11:33


    Who are “they”?

    The “powerful,” according to the ad.

    So, who are the powerful?

  4. O 2022-09-04 12:38

    96 tears, this is how I hear those claims:

    1. When businesses and corporations were afraid their profits were in peril, we chose to sacrifice South Dakotan’s lives to ensure the steady continuation of those profits.
    2. When public health care experts tried to shut down businesses to contain an epidemic, we never wavered in our promotion of profit over lives and safety.
    3. When the ruling bodies of sports organizations recognized the identities of their athletes, we demeaned and denied those individual’s recognitions and the participation rules established.
    4. When educators brought equity and equality discussions to our classrooms, we demanded only our one-sided political propaganda replace those discussions and fought to criminalize all opposing thought.

  5. grudznick 2022-09-04 13:39

    There are different standards, of course. But young Ms. St. John is a very intriguing lady. Very intriguing indeed.

  6. John 2022-09-04 14:42

    96Tears: thank you for your informed and detailed run down on the failed governor. Your analysis hit many more of these traits than I thought existed for Noem. The 14 fascist characteristics define the MAGA republicans.

    ” Political scientist Dr. Lawrence Britt recently wrote an article about fascism (“Fascism Anyone?,” Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, page 20). Studying the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia), and Pinochet (Chile), Dr. Britt found they all had 14 elements in common. He calls these the identifying characteristics of fascism. The excerpt is in accordance with the magazine’s policy.

    The 14 characteristics are:
    1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
    Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

    2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
    Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

    3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
    The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

    4. Supremacy of the Military
    Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

    5. Rampant Sexism
    The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

    6. Controlled Mass Media
    Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

    7. Obsession with National Security
    Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

    8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
    Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

    9. Corporate Power is Protected
    The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

    10. Labor Power is Suppressed
    Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed .
    11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
    Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

    12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
    Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

    13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
    Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

    14. Fraudulent Elections
    Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

  7. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-04 16:44

    The history of the Canton Insane Asylum for Indians was detailed the the South Dakota History publication a few years ago. A very sad story of government ineptitude and outright cruelty. As with most events involving the federal government in South Dakota affairs at this time, Senator Pettigrew plays a major role. It was pork barrel run amok. It was also very consistent with state and federal policy toward the Native American people of this state.

  8. DaveFN 2022-09-04 20:43

    Let’s not forget that Al Rieman, President at Black Hills Harley-Davidson, says that Governor Noem is the “quintessential South Dakotan.” Quintessential being a South Dakotan who represents the most perfect example —of one who kept Rieman’s bread buttered during the COVID pandemic. Not that he couldn’t have survived even in the event of mandates that would have saved lives.

  9. leslie 2022-09-05 02:51

    this is some heavy sheit, people! and, every comment, of course excepting grdz’ who is proven incapable of anything other than being a red-neck.

  10. Jake 2022-09-05 02:56

    DaveFN-so very true you speak of the mouthpiece of Black Hills Harley Davidson. For him to speak thusly of Noem in her latest campaign ad almost made this South Dakotan puke. How someone I knew and worked well with could be misty-eyed so with her non-existent record is beyond me. The dollars that flowed into Harley Davidson of RC the past 4 yrs (her term) also came at the cost of many people dying of Covid that wouldn’t have died with more of the recommended protocol of dealing with the pandemic. He simply speaks the mind-set of the bellicose biker like the Proud Boys that soiled our nation’s capitol building with their mob-riot and feces spreading presence on Jan 6th.
    Behind all this seems to be Rieman’s and other GOP mantra that ” No, or very little regulation is best” when it comes to government’s relationship with the economy.

    ” Money, Greed and Power” -the triad motto of the GOP today.

  11. All Mammal 2022-09-05 23:40

    My dad was born in that asylum. Nowadays, Canton has it’s rehab facility going for it. Hopefully they’re not stashing corpses in the basement there.

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