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South Dakota Department of Education cuts indigenous history, culture from draft standards

Educators and other South Dakotans working to craft new state social studies standards said Tuesday that Gov. Kristi Noem’s administration deleted elements dealing with Native American history and culture from their draft standards, according to the Associated Press.

Members of the group, appointed by South Dakota’s Department of Education to review the standards, said the department’s draft release featuring significant changes caught them by surprise. They said changes made to the draft they submitted in late July aligned with Gov. Noem’s rhetoric on “patriotic education.”

The draft submitted by the group recommended including Native American culture from Oceti Sakowin stories in kindergarten to studying tribal banking systems in high school. The department cut many of these recommendations.

The Department of Education said in a statement that it “relied heavily on the recommendations” from the group but that the proposed standards put a greater emphasis on the experiences of Native Americans in South Dakota than previous standards.

“The department made certain adjustments before the release of the draft to provide greater clarity and focus for educators and the public,” the department said. “The draft standards provide a balanced, age-appropriate approach to understanding our nation’s history, government, economy, and geography, including opportunities to teach about the experiences of all peoples.”

Paul Harens, a retired teacher and member of the group, said the changes subverted their work, which was intended to build consensus and be “apolitical.”

“The new document takes sides,” Harens said. “They have turned it into a political football.”

The department will hold public hearings on the proposed standards throughout the school year, with final standards adopted in March. The standards are widely followed by school districts but are not mandatory.