RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) – A few weeks ago, Governor Kristi Noem decided to reignite the conversation around changing South Dakota’s social studies standards, potentially removing references to the state’s second-largest population.

In the middle of the reservation, a private school immerses its students in Native American culture.

“Being here in Red Cloud, their immersion classes and the Mackert school alone, they’re very focused on the language, the culture, who they are and they speak Lakota most of the time in the other classes and in here, we focus more a lot on leading a healthy lifestyle through contemporary, historical, social song and dance,” said Jason Drapeaux Jr., K-4 Lakota culture teacher at Red Cloud Indian School.

In between two reservations, a public school now offers its students the chance to learn the history and culture surrounding them.

“We really use and allow the students to use the WoLakota Project and we’ve taken this more as an open-ended class where we’re learning together and we allow the students to kind of control it,” said DJ Toczek, the Lakota culture teacher at Bennett County High School. “Maybe a little bit similar to a college course.”

Jason Drapeaux Jr. is a young Native American adult, one generation removed from his grandfather who was unable to learn his own history and culture while at an Indian Boarding School.

Now, the grandson is taking this opportunity to teach what so many were unable to learn in school.

“Going to school in Bennett County, as a young, these guys’ age, K to sixth grade, being able to what I didn’t learn at school to take that and be able to bring it into school, in my own classroom and to have this space where I only got that space if I went to a sundance, for me, I’m very fortunate to be in this position to do this,’ continued Drapeaux.

New to Bennett County High School this year is a Lakota Culture elective, with students of all races signed up.

“The things that most individuals don’t know when they’re in South Dakota is there is a lot of history, there’s a lot of recent history but I think it’s important to learn about a variety of cultures no matter what your culture or ethnicity is, to learn about as much as you possibly can to make sure you’re a diverse, well-rounded individual,” continued Toczek.

For both these educators and Native descendants, the potential of leaving out a portion of South Dakota and America’s history is “disheartening and unjust”.

“We had a lot of major events that happened right here in this area that deserves attention from the state and deserves attention across the nation,” said Toczek.

“Being able to teach the truth of the American history and of the history of this land, and the history of all people’s here, we are able to embrace, embrace it, embrace each other,” ended Drapeaux. “It doesn’t belong to the Native American, it’s a human race, it’s a human being history. And we’re all human beings on this Earth.”

Red Cloud Indian School is also working to expand the slowly dying number of Lakota speakers through immersive language in the classroom and a comprehensive curriculum: “The Lakȟóta Language Project is an initiative designed to revitalize the heritage language of our students and promote the development of confident, competent, and committed Lakȟóta leaders. With less than 6,000 fluent Lakȟóta speakers, few opportunities exist for Lakȟóta youth to learn the language that is inextricably tied to their cultural heritage and identity. The first K-12comprehensive Lakȟóta language curriculum of its kind is now in its twelfth year and has led to improved academic performance and greater language proficiency in school and at home. Recent funding has helped support the development of Lakȟóta online multimedia tools, the creation ofLakȟóta language-based literature for students and other hands-on opportunities to increase the use of the Lakȟóta language,” said Rilda Means, with Red Cloud Indian School. “In September 2019, we announced the first Lakȟóta DualImmersion Class for kindergarten students, where all subjects are taught in both English and Lakȟótaas they advance through 5th grade. To keep the language alive, over the last decade our staff, students, and families have seen the positive impact of learning and speaking the Lakȟóta language. Students have developed a deeper connection to their culture and spiritual identity resulting in extraordinary academic outcomes—after just a few months of instruction, our kindergarten students are already reading, doing their schoolwork, and singing songs in Lakȟóta! By 2023, every student attending Red Cloud’s grades K-5 will be taught using a curriculum translated into Lakȟóta and taught in the Lakȟóta language.”

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