North Dakota House defeats bill promoting Native American studies

The bill's supporters say that adding the emphasis of Native American instruction to the North Dakota Century Code would have sent a message that North Dakota acknowledges the importance of students learning about the tribal nations with which the state shares borders.

The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 11. (Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service)

BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives on Tuesday, March 23, voted 47-47 on an amended bill that would have required an “emphasis” on Native American studies in all public and nonpublic schools in the state.

The tie vote means the bill failed.

Before the vote, some lawmakers testified that the bill was not necessary because many teachers already teach Native American studies in some form. Lawmakers who drafted and proposed the original version of the bill said teaching of the subject needs structure, because students statewide have not been receiving sufficient education on the nuances of Native American studies.

But some lawmakers on Tuesday were unconvinced and said requiring an "emphasis" on Native American studies would be a "slippery slope" to eventually including language specifying the teaching of other cultures, like German or French.

"If we put this specifically into U.S. history or North Dakota history, theoretically we're going to be requiring a great amount of details to be taught on one hand without necessarily having a balanced perspective on the other," said Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, on the House floor.


The bill lawmakers killed Tuesday was an already-weakened version.

The Senate last month adopted an amendment that took away the bill’s requirement to teach a Native American curriculum in all North Dakota schools.

The original version of the bill would have required teachers to incorporate a four-week-long Native American curriculum into existing social studies programs for all elementary and secondary public and nonpublic school students in the state. Teachers would have had to teach students about the “contributions of Native Americans to the sociology of North Dakota,” “current tribal relations with the state and the United States,” and about tribal history, sovereignty, culture and treaty rights, among other topics, according to the original version of the bill.

The amended bill that the House voted down would have had little enforcement power to ensure teachers included instruction about Native Americans. But even so, supporters of the amended version said it's important that students are taught about Native Americans and tribal sovereignty.

"I think it would be beneficial for us as legislators and as citizens to understand the role that tribes have within our state and better understand how that can work to collaborate in the future," said Rep. John Nelson, R-Rugby.

Given Tuesday’s tie vote, it's possible supporters of the bill will try for another vote later in the session.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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