South Dakota has the third largest concentration of Native Americans of any state, more than 9% of the total population. Mostly Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota, they are the majority in several of the state’s 66 counties. South Dakota has seven large Native American reservations. Unfortunately, two of those reservations are on the list of the ten most impoverished communities in the country, and fewer than one in ten households among them speak a language other than English.
In the face of this, the South Dakota Board of Education’s recent decision to require Native American studies in their high school curriculae is an important victory. A small one, but the kind of victory that forms a platform from which to proceed.
The decision, reached by the Board on Thursday January 8th, also calls for revisions to English Language Arts and Mathematics, all in the wake of the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act in Washington DC in December.
South Dakota law requires four public hearings before adopting new standards. They will take place between now and spring 2019, for the new programs to hit schools in fall of that year. The new standards will be for students grades three through eleven, but further details for the new Native American coursework have not yet been discussed.
The new standards are very important to state Education Secretary Melody Schopp. She has said that she wants “truly South Dakota standards for South Dakota parents and students.” And that needs to include all South Dakota students.