Sunday, July 25, 2021

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Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings: resources not just for teachers


By Jody Rust

Cultural initiatives seem to come and go in education, but one that has grown and is receiving more and more attention is the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings (OSEU) and the standards taught to help learners have a deeper understanding of the concepts.

These seven “Essential Understandings” are: Lands and Environment, Identity and Resiliency, Culture and Language, Kinship and Harmony, Oral Tradition and Story, Sovereignty and Treaties, and Ways of Life and Development.

The first understanding, Lands and Environment, reads, “The original land base and natural resources of the Oceti Sakowin [oh-CHEH-tee shaw-KOH-we] were under communal

stewardship prior to immigrant settlement. Oceti Sakowin have a distinct and unique interrelationship with the environment that is essential to South Dakota.”

For those familiar with education, the Essential Understanding is more of a concept that can be understood on a deeper level when the learners are able to “Identify changes from the historic land base to the contemporary nine-reservation South Dakota land base of the Oceti Sakowin, and analyze the causes and implications of those changes;” or “Describe traditional and contemporary Oceti Sakowin perspectives on communal stewardship of land and

natural resources (flora, fauna, geographic and sacred features).”

These are the first two of five standards listed under the Land and Environment Understanding. Each Understanding has a list of standards and additional resources in print and video to help teach learners the concept and understanding.

Dr. Scott Simpson and Sharla Steever of the Technology and Innovation in Education organization, or TIE, explain that teaching these understandings is not just about learning about Lakota/Dakota heritage in South and North Dakota, but also about helping learners from all cultures learn more about themselves — connecting with one’s own cultural identity as one connects with the cultural identity of the Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Councils of the Lakota/Dakota people.

According to the home page of the Wolakota website, “‘WoLakota’ implies balance and coming together. The WoLakota project supports students in high-need schools, pairing trained mentor-teachers with new teachers and providing Courage to Teach circles to tend to the ʻheartsʼ of each.”

The website contains a wealth of information for teachers or families that want to connect to the voices of and history of the Lakota and Dakota people.

Steever and Simpson stress that using the OSEU resources helps learners to connect on a deeper level of understanding with their own culture by providing questions  that initiate a search for basic knowledge about Lakota and Dakota culture, and then providing questions that inspire making personal cultural connections with the Lakota and Dakota knowledge and culture. Essentially, when a person learns about another culture, and connect their own culture with the new culture they have learned, the end up learning and understanding more about themselves.

One aspect of the website that would be helpful for people who are not teachers, but want to explore various aspects of the culture through storytelling, is the composite of interviews from elders and others with a wealth of knowledge about the Lakota and Dakota culture.

From the homepage of the website, people can access interviews under “All Interviews,” and access stories from people such as Dave Bald Eagle, Kevin Locke and Joseph Marshall III — all divided up under the Essential Understandings to which the story or interview clip relates most directly.

Educators across the state, and especially in reservation schools, have been introduced to the OSEU concepts, and many either already integrate these resources into their curriculum not only in Lakota and Dakota culture and language courses, but also in other courses such a government, math, science and English.

To learn more about OSEU, visit the website at


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