South Dakota Boarding School Secrets


It sounds like something out of a movie. Children taken from their homes and families, forced to act a certain way and falling victim to abuse.

Only for many Native American families the nightmare was real. 

In the early 1900s, Native American children were sent to boarding schools with the promise of an education.  

KELOLAND News looks back at a time in South Dakota history that not many people know about. 

Every year around the same time, Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux tribal member Jon Eagle gets an eery feeling. 

“When it comes to the fall time, I have a funny feeling all the time,” said Eagle. 

Eagle was one of thousands of Native American kids who were forced to go to the Tekawitha orphanage and boarding school every year. 

“Not only going there but my being away from family and the compassion they had for me and all the stuff like that. I missed that,” said Eagle. 

In 1851, the Indian Appropriations Act was put into law requiring all Native children to attend school, if they didn’t, there were repercussions for the families. 

“The boarding school era is of course, I sort of break things down into, which actually was sort of a genocide era,” said Sisseton Wahpeton Tribal Historian/Archivist Tamara St. John. 

In that era, Tamara St. John says the federal government’s mantra was “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”. 

“It spelled out the cutting off of your kinship ties, the separation from family, from traditions, from everything cultural,” said St. John. 

While at school, kids couldn’t speak their own language, had to cut their long hair, couldn’t practice their religion, and were stripped of the only identity they knew. 

“It was strange for me and I tried to get adjusted as much as I can,” said Eagle. 

There have been lawsuits about the horrific things that happened at some of the schools, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by the priests and nuns.

“A lot of those that were there have expressed to me that they knew their mother or grandparents had no idea what was happening to them. The level of abuse that was occurring there,” said St. John. 

It went on for decades without anyone stepping in to help the children in the Tekawitha boarding school and others across the state. 

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