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.