South Dakota senate kills Oceti Sakowin school bill

February 1, 2021 GMT

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — A proposal to allow four schools that would teach Oceti Sakowin language and culture failed to pass the South Dakota Senate Monday.

The bill’s failure to pass the Senate represented a setback for Native educators and parents who had worked in recent years to start the schools aimed at addressing a disproportionate drop-out rate among Native Americans and what they described as a legacy of “oppression” in government-run schools. A similar proposal passed unanimously in the Senate last year, but failed to clear the House.

The bill faced opposition by groups representing school districts that said the proposal was in essence charter schools that would drain funds from the districts. They also argued that magnet schools that teach Lakota, Dakota or Nakota language could be created by the school districts.


Several lawmakers who voted against the bill said they applauded the effort to improve education for Native American students, but felt the bill would create problems for existing schools.

But that argument left Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, the Democrat who brought the proposal, visibly frustrated as it failed.

“When we give them a viable option that we know works, they say, ‘that’s not good enough’,” he said.

Heinert indicated he may ask the Senate to reconsider the bill, but proponents would have to change the minds of a handful of lawmakers.

Sage Fast Dog, an educator who runs a private school that teaches the Oceti Sakowin curriculum in Mission on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, was frustrated at the defeat, but said he would keep pushing to reshape education.

“We’ll still call out this broken system all the time,” he said. “We’re not done.”