American Indians and Anti-Intellectualism

9 Mar 2020

Last week we picked up the second printing of our “Tribes, Reservations and Capitals” flashcards. They are packaged into sets of nine because there are nine federally recognized tribes that govern lands in South Dakota. Quick: can you list the official names of the nine tribes? 

It is important that the “official name” of each tribe is learned. That name is in each tribe’s constitution, and on the Bureau of Indian Affairs list of federally recognized tribes. Every tribe has an official name. So does every other nation. We live in the United States of America. That is the official name of this nation. If someone was to answer the question—What is the official name of the nation that shares borders with Mexico and Canada?—with “America,” that would be an incorrect answer. The correct answer is, the “United States of America.” 

Without a correct response, how can we assess whether an answer is right or wrong? 

In alphabetical order, the nine tribes that govern lands in South Dakota are Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST), Crow Creek Sioux Tribe (CCST), Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe (FSST), Lower Brule Sioux Tribe (LBST), Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST), Rosebud Sioux Tribe (RST), Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate (SWO), Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST), and Yankton Sioux Tribe (YST). These are their official names.

There is no federally recognized tribe named “Oglala Lakota Nation.” There is no federally recognized tribe named “Sicangu Oyate.” There is no federally recognized tribe named “Yankton Tribe.” There is no federally recognized tribe named “SWO.” There is no federally recognized tribe named “Flandreau Santi Sioux Tribe.” These five examples are incorrect answers to the question: What are the official names of the federally recognized tribes that govern lands in South Dakota?” 

If the objective is for students to learn the names of the tribes, then there must be a correct answer for each tribe.  We would not accept “Dakota” as the official name of the state between Minnesota and Wyoming, nor would we accept “Soth Dakota” or “S. Dakota” as correct answers. Not only must students know the official names of the nine tribes, but they must also know how to spell the names correctly. 

 There is a pervasive discrimination against teaching American Indian content correctly with such “high” standards. The resistance to rigorous standards, such as requiring that students learn the official names of tribes and spelled correctly is indefensible in regard to American Indians. Such resistance is evidence of anti-intellectualism. 

At the heart of this anti-intellectualism are racist assumptions that American Indians are childish, unsophisticated, ignorant, and incapable of high-order thinking. For example, after one of our trainings, the two highest officers in a statewide education organization said that they didn’t need to learn facts such as the official names of tribes because “Indians come from the oral tradition.” 

Anti-intellectualism is a clever, racist, umbrella under which uninformed individuals can hide from having to do the work of learning even the basics about American Indian tribes in South Dakota. Most fourth-grade students learn the names and the capitals of the fifty states in the United States of America. That means they learn 100 data points. CAIRNS has administered over 5,000 Oceti Sakowin Assessments that include a question asking respondents to list the official names of the tribes that govern lands in South Dakota, and their capitals. That is 18 data points. Not a single person has answered these 18 data points correctly on the first attempt. 

Anti-intellectualism might be why there are no citizens of American Indian tribes on the South Dakota Board of Regents (BOR), or why of the 1,455 faculty at the six BOR universities only 13 (0.9%) are American Indians. Less than 1% of the state’s university faculty members are American Indians, yet over 9% of the state’s residents are American Indians. 

Anti-intellectualism is why non-Indians feel that they can speak for American Indians and why non-Indian organizations can justify receiving and managing monies on behalf of American Indians. It is why American Indians are rarely appointed to governing boards or public positions, and therefore do not have access to networking benefits and decision-making authority.

So learn the official names of the tribes. It is the first step you can take to demonstrate that you are pushing back against the pervasive anti-intellectualism in our state. 


(This article is also published in Lakota Times.)

O

BLOG POSTS