ACLU of South Dakota to speak on education inequality in front of United Nations

Books(Kimberly Farmer)
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 5:03 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The Legal Director for ACLU is scheduled to discuss the lack of education equity for Indigenous students in the United States, particularly in South Dakota.

Stephanie Amiotte will speak in front of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva, Switzerland, next week. The United States periodically reports on that states’ compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination that was ratified in 1994.

According to a press release from the ACLU, teaching students about contemporary Native American issues, tribal nations, tribal sovereignty, culture, accomplishments of Native Americans, and accurate history of Native Americans and colonization effects will help break through the invisibility and stereotypes that perpetuate bias and racism toward Native Americans.

But this requires availability, access to, and acceptance of Native American culture within the school setting – something that’s currently lacking throughout the United States. In fact, 87% of state history standards in districts across the country do not mention Native American history after 1900, and 27 states make no mention of a single Native American in their K-12 curriculum.

“Despite empirical data demonstrating the actions needed in U.S. schools to overcome education inequity, and to combat ethnic racism, more needs to be done to eliminate discriminatory policies and affirmatively require the types of education, curriculum, and content standards that Native American students need to succeed. Ignoring Native Americans’ contributions, innovations, and accomplishments in K-12 education exacerbates harmful biases in generation after generation of Americans who grow up learning a false, distorted narrative about Native Americans. Our history must be accurately represented in every classroom.”

South Dakot Legal Director for ACLU, Stephanie Amiotte
Attempts to include Indigenous perspective in curriculum halted by Noem

The initial standards, developed by a nearly 50-person working group in 2021 – which included South Dakota educators – provided an opportunity for Indigenous students to have their Indigenous perspective represented. This allows them to feel welcome, respected, and encouraged to receive education relevant to their culture, similar to what white students already receive within South Dakota’s public school system.

But when the draft of the proposed standards was released, the Department of Education removed or altered most of the references to Native Americans that the workgroup proposed. Gov. Kristi Noem halted the process and restarted it with a new working group following significant criticism and outcry from South Dakotans across the state. More than 600 public comments, most opposing the Department of Education’s unilateral cuts, were made prior to the first public comment hearing.

The report to the UN Committee also follows the report published in May by the U.S. Department of the Interior that outlines the atrocities committed at the boarding schools designed and run by the federal government to eradicate Indigenous people. The report identifies 408 federal Indian boarding schools across 37 states that operated between 1819 and 1969 and has identified at least 53 schools with marked and unmarked gravesites. South Dakota had at least 31 of these schools.

ACLU is asking UN Committee to recommend the US take action on Indigenous education equity

The ACLU is asking the UN Committee, which consists of 18 international independent experts on human rights and racial justice, to recommend that the United States require states to take decisive enforcement action against discriminatory state laws, policies, or agency actions that defeat and undermine Indigenous education equity, specifically raising the following questions during the United States’ delegation appearance before the Committee on Aug. 11-12:

· What new enforcement methods are being pursued since President Biden’s issuance of the October 2021 Executive Order to address states’ actions, policies, and laws that censor and suppress Indigenous culture, curriculum, history, and language from being taught in public schools?

· What specific actions does the U.S. plan to take to address ongoing traumas and discrimination that Indigenous students continue to experience as a result of the policies and laws adopted by some states who continue to promote assimilation and discrimination through educational systems?

· What specific actions does the U.S. plan to take to implement the objectives of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and that would broaden its interpretation of Tribal Sovereignty with respect to Indian education programs, curriculum, and content standards, within both public and tribal schools, to advance education equity for Indigenous students?

Amiotte is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. A copy of the ACLU’s report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination can be seen below.

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