Reconciliation through Education: In the Face of Erasure and Injustice, Indigenous People Remain Resilient
Pictured: The South Dakota State Capitol in Pierre, SD. Pierre will be the site of one of four public hearings set to take place throughout the spring on the newly proposed social studies standards. Photo credits to The Mitchell Republic
While Native representation in media has slowly grown in recent years, erasure and invisibility in classrooms and beyond continue to marginalize Indigenous people and cloud the public understanding of the truth surrounding our shared histories.
In a set of social studies standards released on August 6th, officials of South Dakota's Department of Education omitted over a dozen learning objectives related to the Oceti Sakowin that had been proposed by a working group ten days prior. The Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, refers to the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples Indigenous to the Dakotas and the surrounding region. The erasure of Indigenous history is an issue in school districts across the country: a 2019 report on Native education by the National Congress of American Indians revealed that less than half of the 28 states surveyed require that Native education curricula be taught in K-12 schools.
In a letter sent to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem by the Oglala Sioux Tribe following the release of the standards, Tribal President Kevin Killer stated "Our children, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, deserve an education that does not shy away from the ugly realities in this country's history or the perspectives of peoples of color who have too long been marginalized."
Pictured: Alaska Native Lizzie Chimiugak Nenguryarr (center), the first person to be counted in the 2020 census. Photo credits to Claire Harbage/NPR
Despite these efforts to erase Indigenous people and their histories, recently released data from the 2020 US Census revealed that the Native population is at its largest size in modern times. Experts have identified several factors potentially contributing to the rise in the Native population, including changes to the census questionnaire, an increase in the number of mixed-race families, effective outreach campaigns, and a rise in Latino individuals identifying with their Indigenous heritage. This census data is likely to impact state legislative and congressional redistricting processes, as well as the allocation of federal funds for services and programs in Native communities.
Though the increase in population was celebrated by Native-led organizations, advocates and officials have also expressed that Indigenous people were likely undercounted in the census. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Indigenous people live in hard-to-count US census tracts, and Native people living on reservations and in Alaska Native communities have been historically underrepresented in census data as a result of various factors including economic hardship, lack of telephones, and rural locations.
(Pictured: Colorado Governor Jared Polis signs executive orders rescinding two 157-year-old proclamations on August 17th in Denver, alongside Tribal leaders, youth, and representatives. Photo credits to Rebecca Slezak, The Denver Post)
As the Indigenous population grows, so too do the calls to address the historical and present-day injustices committed against Native communities. Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed executive orders on August 17th rescinding two 1864 proclamations which had called for forced relocation and violence against Indigenous people in the state. The proclamations, issued 157 years ago by then-territorial Governor John Evans, required “friendly” Indigenous people in Colorado to relocate to designated camps, and authorized Colorado settlers to steal from and “kill and destroy” any Native people they deemed hostile.
Evans' proclamations later incited the Sand Creek Massacre of November 1864, in which US soldiers attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho village in southeast Colorado and killed hundreds of Indigenous people- primarily women, children, and the elderly. Indigenous leaders who attended the signing of the recent executive orders expressed that government responsibility for past injustices is an important step in the healing process. However, they also highlighted the need for more efforts towards redress and reconciliation, such as the renaming of Mount Evans.
Additional resources on the recently released South Dakota social studies standards, the increase in the Native population identified in the 2020 Census, and Governor Polis' August 17th executive orders listed below.
On the erasure of the Oceti Sakowin from South Dakota social studies standards:
"South Dakota Department of Education contributes to 'Native erasure' in new social studies standards" from Native News Online:
A letter from the Oglala Sioux Tribe to SD Governor Kristi Noem in opposition to the erasure of Indigenous history from state curricula: https://www.facebook.com/withkevwecan/posts/10158402733663174
"Becoming Visible," a report from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) and Illuminative on current efforts towards Native Education across the US: https://www.ncai.org/policy-research-center/research-data/prc-publications/NCAI-Becoming_Visible_Report-Digital_FINAL_10_2019.pdf
On the 2020 Census and the increase in the Native population:
"Native American population jumps to largest size in modern history" from Axios: https://www.axios.com/census-native-american-alaska-population-surges-1be8eef6-d09f-4249-86b0-7bf8cfbfc801.html
"Why the jump in the Native American population may be one of the hardest to explain" from CNN:
An overview of the importance of the census for Indigenous communities and the challenges to accurately counting the Native population from the NCAI:
On the 1864 proclamations recently rescinded via executive order by Colorado Governor Jared Polis:
"Colorado governor rescinds proclamations that led to Sand Creek Massacre" from the Colorado Sun:
"Colorado governor voids 1864 order to kill Natives" from Indian Country Today:
"Colorado Experience: Sand Creek Massacre," a one-hour documentary from PBS on the history of Evans' proclamations and the Sand Creek Massacre, available to watch for free at the following link:
Sources for this newsletter include: Coverage of these topics from Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Axios, the Associated Press, CNN, NPR, Colorado Public Radio, the Colorado Sun, the National Park Service, the Argus Leader, US News, the National Congress of American Indians, and USA Today, as well as a 2017 report on hard-to-count census tracts from the University of New Hampshire and recent statements on the erasure of Native people from SD educational standards from NDN Collective and the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
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