Native American Day spent in somber remembrance of lives lost in Rapid City boarding school
RAPID CITY, S.D. – Monday was Native American Day in South Dakota, a celebratory day of the cultural foundation laid out by the state’s Indian tribes. Instead of celebration, the holiday was spent by some in somber remembrance of the children who died in boarding schools when that cultural influence was threatened in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Monday morning in Rapid City, dozens walked, prayed and remembered the lives lost. From Sioux Park to Sioux San, natives and non-natives together, carried signs with the names of those known to have died.
44 names are the only known but many more are still in question. Records for the early years of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School were burned during the late 1800’s until roughly 1911. Knowing who lived and who died is nearly impossible to this day.
“They probably had the most deaths in that first decade,” said Heather Dawn Thompson, volunteer for Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Research Project.
Many died at school. Others were killed by disease or while attempting escape.
“Grandma said one day, Mable went away to boarding school,” said Violet Catches, relative of a boarding school student. “[She] never came back.”
The story is heard too often from survivors well into the 1900’s.
“There were three or four, multiple generations of children who were forcibly removed from their homes and taken to the boarding schools with the goal of teaching them that everything that was them was bad,” said Thompson. “Their language was bad, their religion was bad, their life was bad.”
Generations ago but still greatly affecting the community we live in today.
“I had a best friend named Marianne Eagle Pipe,” said Rosemary Aguilar, a boarding school survivor. “She committed suicide because of the boarding school.”
Aguilar explained that when she was in boarding school in Mission, there were 50 to 60 girls per one instructor.
“You didn’t have that motherly attention,” said Aguilar. “It was hard for me, with my kids, I couldn’t hug them. I couldn’t kiss them because I never got that.”
“When you have multiple generations being raised, forced to not appreciate themselves, it has long-term ramifications of self-confidence and how you treat yourself and others around you,” said Thompson.
Now to this day, many yearn for the peace of finding their ancestors lost to the boarding school and never stop remembering the lasting cultural impacts that still resonate today.