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SD Department of Education Dec. 2016  

  Photo of Sage Fast Dog in classroom TEACHER FEATURE: Helping Native students know themselves better

Sage Fast Dog teaches Lakota Studies at Todd County Middle School.

An enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Fast Dog knows that teachers unfamiliar with Native American culture sometimes feel unequipped to teach South Dakota’s Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, or OSEUs. Oceti Sakowin [oh-CHEH-tee SHAW-koh-we] means “Seven Council Fires” and refers collectively to the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

Getting to know the content

“With the teachers here, I tell them, it’s always a difficult task when you don’t understand something very well,” he says. “But we already went to school to learn how to teach. The part we need to brush up on is our content. Whether the teacher is in Indian Country or where the Indian population is low, it’s about understanding the people in South Dakota.”

The OSEUs serve as the basis for the social studies curriculum at Todd County Middle School. In addition to his Lakota Studies classes, Fast Dog goes into colleagues’ classrooms to model lessons or help them design lessons based on the OSEUs.

Photo of Sage Fast Dog in classroom

“I’ve always had a belief that if kids had the opportunity to learn about who they were and at the same time, have the academic skills they need, they would make gains,” Fast Dog says.

During summer 2016, Fast Dog was part of a work group that developed social studies lessons for grades PK-12 aligned to the OSEUs. These lessons can be found on the WoLakota Project website, along with many other resources related to the OSEUs, including video interviews with tribal elders.

In Fast Dog’s classroom, one would see a lot of activity. Students might be learning the Lakota language through games. They might be writing about and illustrating a phase of the creation story after studying Donald Montilleaux or Thomas Simms' interpretations. Or students might be creating winter counts after learning about winter counts viewable online via the Smithsonian Institute.

In this example of student work, students were asked to create a sentence using the Lakota sentence structure and make an illustration under each sentence.
In this example of student work, students were asked to create a sentence using the Lakota sentence structure and make an illustration under each sentence.

Filling the history gaps

Fast Dog remembers wanting to know more about Native American history while growing up on the Rosebud Reservation. “That was always one of my biggest gaps when I got older,” he says.

He recalls excitedly flipping ahead to the appropriate textbook pages after an elementary school teacher said they would soon be studying Native American history. He was disappointed to find only a few pages of content. He wants his students to have a deeper understanding of their history.

Getting middle school students interested in things like treaties and federal policies can be a challenge, but Fast Dog tries to make it relatable, sometimes starting with something as simple as students’ bus ride to school. He’ll ask them what they saw: Fences? Gates? What shapes are the fenced areas? These questions lead to discussion of the land surveying that led to the creation of the square grid of the reservation, followed by the allotment of land to tribal members.

He discusses the parts of treaties that were written in Lakota: “You want them [students] to be able to decode those, to understand the Lakota thought—how their ancestors thought,” he says. “And see if they can make those connections to how they and their parents think today.”

Fast Dog’s goal is to provide a foundation before students get to the secondary level. “The hope is that they’re well-prepared to know what they’re protecting as a tribal member,” he says. “Especially as a tribal member, protecting their identity. They can’t do that if they don’t know who they are.”

Photo of Sage Fast Dog in classroom
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