Native American asylum presentation addresses cruel treatment
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Historians broke down a tough topic on South Dakota’s past.
Keepers of the Canton Native Asylum Story held a presentation on the Hiawatha Insane Asylum at The Journey Museum and Learning Center on Sunday.
Speakers showed a timeline on the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians, a Native American assimilation center that was open in Canton, South Dakota between 1902 and 1934.
During its operation, the asylum contained 391 inmates. Some were committed for reasons unrelated to mental instability.
Government investigations conducted during its run found asylum conditions to be worse than most prisons in that era. It also lacked a proper medical staff.
Committed Native Americans and some staff spoke up against their treatment.
Orator Anne Dilenschneider said that she hopes future generations will learn from the past and speak up when they see injustices.
“Part of it is that so it never happens again – that we learn to see each other, that we learn why people spoke up,” Dilenschneider said. “The Native Americans were speaking up, but so were the staff. They had the courage in their workplace to lose their jobs and speak up. Do we have that kind of courage when something’s going wrong?”
Following its closing in 1934, the asylum was repurposed into the Hiawatha Golf Course, a hospital building and a girls dormitory over the years.