During their final interim meeting Dec. 15, members of the South Dakota Legislature’s interim committee on State-Tribal Relations approved two bills for introduction during the legislative session. Both bills made appearances in Legislature last session, but were ultimately defeated.
The first bill is legislation to create and fund up to four Oceti Sakowin community-based schools, and the second is a resolution to the federal government asking it to repeal the section in the 1863 Sioux-Dakota Removal Act, which banishes the Dakota people from Minnesota.
Bill draft 95: Creation and funding of Oceti Sakowin community-based schoolsThis bill will be reintroduced from last session, and would provide for the creation and funding of Oceti Sakowin community-based schools.
An Oceti Sakowin community-based school is defined in House bill 95 as “an educational institution that combines the rigorous academics of a quality school with a wide range of vital in-house services, supports, and opportunities for the purpose of promoting each student’s learning and development.”
The school “embraces and lifts the indigenous language of the community and incorporates four interconnected support systems into one core structure that includes a strong core instructional program designed to help each student meet high academic standards; enrichment activities designed to expand each student’s learning opportunities and support cognitive, social, emotional, moral, and physical development; a full range of health and mental health services designed to safeguard each student’s well being and remove barriers to learning; and indigenous language as the instructional language for core classes or as a kindergarten through grade 12 indigenous language program to develop fluency and preserve language,” according to the bill draft.
The original bill was amended several times throughout the process, which was incorporated into this version of the bill. Senator VJ Smith, R-Brookings, called the bill’s failure the “greatest disappointment” of last session and likened it to Lazarus. He said he was excited for the bill’s return and “the bottom line is trying to make a difference in young people’s lives.”
Senator Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said there will be opposition to the bill in this session as well, “and that’s OK.” “The coalition has shown and proved this is something we should be doing if we want to make a change in educational results for native children,” he said.
Heinert motioned to recommend the bill as legislation, which was unanimously approved by the rest of the committee. Heinert was named the prime sponsor for the bill in the Senate, and Representative Peri Pourier, D-Pine Ridge, was named the prime sponsor in the House. The bill will originate in the House, where it had ultimately failed last session.
Heinert described the vision for the Oceti Sakowin schools as “an opportunity for children to learn in their own language, in their own way, with a strong foundation of who they are as a people. Though we have come close in a few efforts, we’ve never taken that next step to say, ‘OK, we have tried since the beginning of formal education to take your knowledge and culture out of the equation, and it’s time to put that back in.’ Whether that’s one school or four schools, we have to start somewhere,” he said.
Bill draft 94: Amending the Sioux-Dakota Removal ActThe second bill the interim State-Tribal Relations committee will recommend is supporting an amendment to the 1893 Sioux-Dakota Removal act which banished the Sioux and Dakota Native Americans from their ancestral lands in Minnesota that is still on federal books.
An important component of the request to remove the banishment of the Sisseton, Wahpeton, Medawakanton, and Wahpakoota tribes of Dakota people from Minnesota is that would not affect the property rights that were established through the law nor the land given to those tribes after their removal. The concurrent resolution also requests that the United States issues a formal statement of reconciliation to the tribes affected by the Dakota Removal Act.
Representative Tamara St. John, R-Sisseton, in going through previous issues with language in the bill, offered to lead a consultation with the Dakota people. She said she hopes by discussing and addressing objections head on and with the Dakota people, “we can find some means to move forward on it.”
Ross Garelick Bell, a lobbyist for the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, said the goal of the act is simply to clean up an outdated law and not cause further harm through doing so. While the language in the current bill draft is still not where the committee wants it to be, he still advocated for the committee to pass it through to the legislature.
“Hopefully, Congress will take action after this. We are asking to pass this as a placeholder as we look at language before the legislature starts in January. It’s saying the state supports congressional action to remove the specific language of banishment without involving property battles. This is still on books as actual law,” Bell said.
Senator Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, said the language issues should be fixed before moving forward with legislation that deals with such “sensitive issues” like property rights. Representative Tony Randolph, R-Rapid City, concurred that the language should be more precise before voting on it.
St. John said the goal of the amendment is not complicated. Written correctly and precisely, she said the bill should be fine and that she supported a good review of the language.
Smith supported the bill moving forward and changing the language slightly before it is introduced in session.
“I think we all understand the changes that will make it acceptable. As rational people, we can go back and address the wrongs that were made here,” he said.
Heinert again motioned to bring the bill forward in a Senate concurrent resolution, which passed. Randolph and Russell voted no on the bill, saying it needed more time to get the right language in place before they felt comfortable endorsing it. Heinert will be the prime sponsor in the Senate and St. John will be the prime in the House.