After the Pierre Police Department escort and mounted horse riders passed by, at least 100 marchers on foot made their way through Pierre on Monday. They let the children lead the way.
The march winding its way from Steamboat Park to Hilger’s Gulch was led by the children of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, otherwise known as the People of Seven Council Fires or the Sioux Nation.
The children at the head of Monday’s march carried a banner that read “Oceti Sakowin Past. Present. Future.” They also waved signs that called on South Dakota’s leadership to “Honor Indigenous Leadership In State Decision Making,” something many Native Americans in South Dakota have voiced as lacking in 2021.
Afternoon rain dampened the route for Monday’s protesters, who marched down Dakota Avenue and up Highland Avenue across Pierre’s main stretch of Sioux Avenue to Hilger’s Gulch, not far from the South Dakota Department of Education building on Governors Drive.
The march, organized by Rapid City-based groups South Dakota Education Equity Coalition and NDN Collective, protested the South Dakota Department of Education’s draft social studies content standards published for public feedback on Aug. 6, which removed almost all mentions of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate included in the July 26 draft.
For example, in the July 26 draft’s kindergarten standards for history, civics and geography, students would “Read or listen to Oceti Sakowin Oyate stories, such as Iktomi stories and historical lore stories,” “Discuss the meaning of kinship to the Oceti Sakowin Oyate” and “Discuss the tribal nations of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate.” In the Aug. 6 draft, no such mentions of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate remain.
In a press release last month, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Chairman Harold Frazier lamented the edits made to the “unprecedented” draft from July 26.
“There is so much that must be taught to the children in order for them to understand the world they will inherit, and it begins with an understanding of one another,” Frazier said. “Removing the important lessons of who we are, where we came from and why things are the way they are, robs every young mind of the necessary understandings to overcome the hurdles of conflict, genocide, and historical trauma.”
Ed Iron Cloud III of Porcupine, a South Dakota state representative from 2008 to 2012, braved Monday’s forecast of scattered showers and thunderstorms in Pierre to be at the march.
“I’m just here to watch, listen and learn about what’s going here, because we need to,” Iron Cloud said. “As tribal people we need to be able to communicate better with one another. But also, whether the state likes us or we like the state, we’re here. We’re not going nowhere. So we got to work together.”
Another sign carried at Monday’s march read “Kill Racism, Save Education,” a reference to “Kill the Indian, save the man,” quipped by Superintendent Richard Henry Pratt of Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School. One depicted the surnames of Gov. Kristi Noem, Education Department Secretary Tiffany Sanderson, Office of Indian Education Director Fred Osborn and Tribal Relations Department Secretary Dave Flute in an arrow pointing to the left with “Tribal Sovereignty” in an arrow pointing to the right.
Elwood Cuny, who attended Bennett County High School in Martin, made the brief journey across the Missouri River from Fort Pierre for Monday’s march and carried the flag of the American Indian Movement around Steamboat Park.
“The world is going through a major cleansing right now,” Cuny said. “There’s a lot of bad stuff going down, and it starts with our children.”
The first of four public hearings on the proposed social studies standards is set for Sept. 20 at Holgate Middle School in Aberdeen. Further hearings will take place in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City before potential approval by the state Board of Education Standards in the spring of 2022.
Fort Pierre water vendor West River/Lyman-Jones, a sponsor system of the Mni Wiconi Water Supply Project, noted in a recent letter to Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson it is supportive of the city’s plan to find a new water source.
In 2009, Fort Pierre approached WR/LJ to request a water purchase agreement through an “emergency” connection to the Mni Wiconi pipeline that was put in place by a 2000 easement agreement between Fort Pierre and the Oglala Sioux tribe. Fort Pierre previously used wells throughout the city, which according to Hanson led to high iron and manganese content.
In an Aug. 26 letter to Hanson, WR/LJ manager Jake Fitzgerald said his system “agrees with and supports” Fort Pierre’s efforts to connect to a new water source.
“Because Ft. Pierre’s water service needs were not included in the design of the project, the water purchase agreement is based on a limited term, and more importantly, a limited and adjustable capacity,” Fitzgerald wrote. “WR/LJ’s maximum allocation from the Mni Wiconi system is 4,044 gallons per minute (gpm). The WR/LJ water purchase agreement with the city allows for a maximum delivery rate of 750 gpm and a maximum allotment of 1 million gallons per day.”
Hanson told the Capital Journal her city does reach 1 million gallons of water usage on heavy watering days, though she said the city has seen a decline in usage over the summer.
Fitzgerald went on to note that other WR/LJ members have priority over Fort Pierre and that when system usage trends increase, “interim extra capacity” for Fort Pierre declines. He also wrote that “with limitations from the Mni Wiconi core system,” WR/LJ “likely” will not be able to renew Fort Pierre’s water purchase agreement come 2032, when the current 20-year agreement expires.
“It’s not surprising at all,” Hanson said. “One of the things that we have enjoyed with West River/Lyman-Jones, they’re who we purchase the water from, and we have had an excellent working relationship with them. They have accommodated us extremely well for not having the City of Fort Pierre in their original plan. And so they added us on an emergency basis and it has worked very well. So our reasons for looking for other options have nothing to do with our relationship with West River/Lyman-Jones.”
Like Hanson, Fort Pierre Public Works Director Rick Hahn said there is not one single reason the city is looking to switch up its water source, but multiple.
“The desire to improve our system and keep our water quality up as well as expand our abilities,” Hahn said. “All of the above. Fire protection, growth of the city.” Hahn also said failures along the Mni Wiconi line have been a “catalyst.”
“We are limited with our agreement with West River/Lyman-Jones and that’s because we were late to the party, more or less,” Hahn said. “We didn’t get in at the early stages and so we came in after the fact, and therefore we have very limited water from them.... They have no ability to expand our quantity of water, so therefore, in order for the city to continue to grow, we have to look at other sources.”
Hanson said the city is planning to submit a new water storage project for placement on the State Water Facilities Plan administered by the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. To receive state funding, Fort Pierre’s project must be listed on the SWFP.
“We are hoping for another million gallons,” Hanson said. “But we will have to justify that.”
Students at T.F. Riggs High School will get a chance to learn from professionals as a Boston a cappella group makes their way to the Pierre area to educate and inspire future musicians on Sept. 21.
The five-member vocal a cappella group, Ball in the House from Boston, described their music as a mix of rhythm and blues, soul and pop. The group is known for its high-energy shows and getting audience members to join them by singing and dancing along to the music.
“Margaret Ellefson came to me about them doing a workshop with us and us singing a piece with them,” Riggs Vocal Director Rodd Bauck said. “We will be singing ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ by Justin Timberlake with them. I don’t know what all is going to take place when they work with us. It is my Chamber choir that will be singing with them.”
Ellefson is the president of the Pierre Concert Series.
“We are excited they can go into the schools and work with the students because music is something you can enjoy your entire life,” Nancy Thomsen, Pierre Concert Series treasurer, said. “We want this to be a community thing. We want to encourage students to be involved with professional musicians and provide those opportunities whenever possible.”
Ball in the House member Montario “Monty” Hill found while the voice is an adaptable instrument in itself, he and his fellow group members also enjoy playing traditional instruments, including the piano, trumpet and recorder. But Hill said he prefers the sound of the human voice.
Now, he hopes to inspire future generations of vocalists.
“For most of us, we grew up in a choral program at school,” Hill said. “We hope that we inspire students to continue in the arts in some capacity. It comes full circle when they get the opportunity to see us on stage or watch our videos. When we are on tour, we get to reach a different part of the country that may not get the opportunities of being in a big city like Boston.”
Hill found there are some challenges with a cappella. He said the most challenging part is getting past the initial rehearsal stages because, at times, it can be discouraging.
“You’re learning a new song that you have heard on the radio a million times and trying to make it sound like that with just vocals,” he said. “If it doesn’t sound alright in the beginning, which nine times out of 10 it doesn’t, you want to drop it and move on to something else. That’s where practice, determination and responsibility come into play.”
Despite challenges in using just vocals, Hill said he could count on his fellow members supporting him every step of the way when he’s singing lead.
Hill also found that the best part of it all is interacting with the audience or students, especially when they sing during the call and response sections of shows or when the group sees them making dance moves in the audience. And he said the group is excited to have the students perform with them.
The Sept. 21 event isn’t the group’s first time in Pierre. They were also in Pierre in the fall of 2019 while traveling to Gettysburg. But future shows in South Dakota will cut the group’s visit short this time around.
“We might dabble around town. We have a show in Belle Fourche the next day, so not sure if we will get to do everything,” Hill said. “That just means that we have to come back. We are just very excited to be back on the road doing what we love and providing some much-needed release for people across the country. Whether you want to dance, cry, sing, laugh, or just get out of the house, we hope that we can help you get to your destination.”
After workshopping with students, Ball in the House will perform at Riggs Theater at 7 p.m. that evening. The concert is the first installment of the Pierre Concert Series 2021-2022 program. Tickets are available through Pierre Concert Series membership by phoning 605-224-2301 or at the door.
“Anybody who had a ticket from April 2020 may use those tickets as part of the 2021 season,” Thomsen said. “Don’t worry if you have thrown your tickets away. I will be there with the master list, so no problem.”
The Pierre Concert Series annually brings a four- or five-concert season to the Pierre area community, of musical entertainment ranging from classical and jazz to pop, folk and country. The Series is all-volunteer, with support coming almost exclusively from series memberships and concert sponsorships. Coronavirus pandemic precautions led to the entire fall season’s cancelation.
“Of course, with the pandemic, life for anyone in the arts was full-stop halted with no sure answer to if and when we would be able to return to our livelihood,” Hill said. “It was devastating for us to get the news of cancelations for mostly everything mid-March. Fortunately for us, we applied for every grant that we could. We managed to adapt our show virtually through the aid of a local television station, WCTV. We pretty much did everything that we could to stay productive during those trying times. We are forever grateful that we were able to sustain and continue to strive as we as a global community figure out the next step.”