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South Dakota State-Tribal Relations Committee rebukes Governor Noem Executive Order

The committee voted 10-0 to send the Office of Indian Education back to the South Dakota State Department of Education, after Governor Kristi Noem moved it from there by way of executive order in early 2019.
Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 11:04 AM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - An executive order from Governor Kristi Noem in 2019 was roundly rebuked in a unanimous, bipartisan vote at the South Dakota State-Tribal Relations committee meeting.

The executive order moved the Office of Indian Education from under the jurisdiction of the South Dakota Department of Education, to the South Dakota State-Tribal Relations Department. The office had been a part of the Department of Education under the previous two governors.

Legislatures and Native American education leaders alike critiqued Governor Noem for what they say was little to no consultation on the decision.

“The Governor did that unilaterally without necessarily working with legislators. The tribal education directors are the people with the boots on the ground and they are the ones working with the tribes, and they are the ones asking for this, so since it is coming from them, I fully support it.” said committee chair, State Representative Shawn Bordeaux (D-Mission).

Several of those tribal education directors, as well as other education leaders in tribal communities, have testified to that sentiment in a number of State-Tribal Relations committee hearings.

Legislators expressed less issue with the merits of the move, and more with the fact that they felt there was little to no consultation on the matter.

“These things happening are purely because of that lack of communication, and yes, it is probably within her authority to do this sort of thing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing to do.” said State Representative Tamara St. John (R-Sisseton).

The South Dakota Indiana Education Advisory Council, which has representatives from all nine Native American tribes in South Dakota, has also unanimously voted in favor of moving the agency back under the state Department of Education.

Neither State-Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute, nor Department of Education Secretary Ben Jones were in attendance to testify before the committee, continuing a trend of Governor Noem’s cabinet members and staff intentionally and openly avoiding State-Tribal committee meetings.

In a letter to the committee, Secretary Flute argued that “The South Dakota Department of Education, (DOE), is a regulatory and federal compliance agency and is responsible for following the rules and standards set forth for all school systems. The Office of Indian Education remains in communication and collaboration with DOE on all matters that are important to the education of our native students throughout the state. It is unnecessary to continually debate this issue when we have native students struggling during this pandemic and we all need to get back to focusing on the vision and mission of the Office of Indian Education.”

Secretary Jones only wrote to say that he would not be in attendance at the meeting.

“I think there has been ample opportunity to come forward and give good reasoning (if you will), or give their reasoning as to why the move was made, and that hasn’t been done.” said State Representative Tony Randolph (R- Rapid City).

The vote amounts to a motion to recommend legislation for the upcoming legislative session in January 2021. The committee, which features members of both the State Senate and State House, agreed that if the bill were to come before the entire legislature, it would be more intuitive to have it appear before the State House first.

The Governor’s office has not responded to a request for comment on this matter.

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