Boarding school survivors share stories of abuse during Secy. Haaland’s visit to South Dakota

Haaland’s visit marks the second time this year a U.S. Cabinet Secretary has visited the Rosebud Reservation, after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit at the end of June

MISSION, S.D. — It was a historic and emotional Saturday on the Rosebud Reservation, as boarding school survivors gathered to share their stories. Listening was U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.

“It is a historical event for everybody here,” said Rosebud Sioux Tribe President Scott Herman.

Here are photos from the event



Secretary Haaland, the first Indigenous woman to hold that office, made the third stop in the year-long “The Road to Healing” Tour in Mission, South Dakota. Haaland and Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Bryan Newland, are collecting stories from boarding school survivors.

“Our goal is to create opportunities for people to share their stories, but also to help connect the communities with trauma-informed support and overall to facilitate the collection of a permanent oral history,” Secretary Haaland said.

Secretary Haaland launched the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in 2021, a comprehensive effort to recognize the legacy of the boarding school policies, address their inter-generational impacts, and “shed light on the promise of the past.”

“I want you all to know I am with you on this journey,” Secretary Haaland said. “I will listen. I will grieve with you. I will weep with you, and I will absolutely feel your pain.”

In addition to the trauma-informed support, traditional medicine men were on hand to help through the healing process. A court reporter was also present, documenting the stories told by survivors and their descendants.


South Dakota’s boarding school history began in the late 1800s, with schools like the Pierre Indian Learning Center opening in 1891, and the Flandreau Indian School in 1892.

“We know that here in South Dakota there were 31 federally recognized Indian boarding schools, including the Bishop Hare Industrial School, which I can see through the window across the field,” Newland said.

Thousands of American Indian and Alaska Natives across the U.S. endured the forced assimilation at more than 400 boarding schools that operated between 1819 and 1969.

“What they did was wrong, and they hurt generations and generations of people,” said Cecilia Fire Thunder, a survivor of Holy Rosary Mission, now Red Cloud Indian School.

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map courtesy: U.S. Dept. of Interior Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative

“School policies have touched every Indigenous person I know,” Secretary Haaland said. “Some are survivors, some are descendants, but we all carry the trauma from that era in our hearts.”


“So none of you are alone; none of you are,” Newland said. “This system has affected all of us, and we’re here alongside you – with you – so that we can start to heal together.”


Dozens gathered in Mission to share their stories and support, including Ruby Left Hand Bull Sanchez, who shared one of her many traumatic boarding school experiences.

“They see a nun grabbing a sponge with lye  soap and shoving it down the girl’s throat, and she said ‘no, no, no, no.’ She pushed it down her throat and the little girl fainted, and the nuns took her away,” Ruby said through tears. “And that was me.”

Ruby went to St. Francis Mission at just five years old, and now at 64, she says she can never get that time back.


Another woman described through tears the “military-like” conditions that were designed to “kill the Indian and save the man.”

“Anyone who survived a boarding school with their language intact, with the knowledge of the ceremonies, with the knowledge of these sacred sites…We need to protect them,” said Cheryl Angel, a boarding school survivor. “We need to listen to them; their stories are important.”

Secretary Haaland was absolutely in agreement.

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“The healing that can help our communities will not be done overnight, but it will be done,” Secretary Haaland added. “This one step among many that we will take to strengthen and rebuild Native communities that the Federal Indian Boarding School Policies set out to break.”

Categories: ConnectCenter1-Events, Local News, South Dakota News