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Saginaw Chippewa tribe honors children who died after U.S. forced them into boarding school

Clarke Historical Library

A grim chapter of the history of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan was remembered today. The Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School closed 87 years ago this week.

Between 1893 and the  closure  of the school June 6, 1934, the federal government seized thousands of Native American children from Michigan and other states and forced them to live at the school. The idea was to assimilate the children into the white culture. The children wore uniforms and were not allowed to wear native clothing. They could not wear their hair in a tribal style. They were banned from speaking in their native languages. As much as possible, they were separated from their tribal culture.

The Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School was only one of many similar places across the U.S. approved by Congress in 1891. 

“Native children were taken from their homes and placed in the school for re-education to conform to non-native culture,” said Marcella Hadden,Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, reading from a plaque noting the remaining buildings and site were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The complex is now owned by the Saginaw Chippewa tribe.

At a ceremony held at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways, one tribal leader called it an “atrocity” with the goal to “destroy us as a people.”

The event was called “Honoring, Healing, and Remembering.” Shared online, it included prayers, ceremonial drum songs, dedications, and a history lesson. The centerpiece of the day was the reading of the children’s names with drum beats to honor each one.

"Let’s always remember the 227 students that perished while attending the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School,” said William Johnson, the interim director of the Ziibiwing Center.

This year’s anniversary took on additional significance. Last week 215 children’s graves were discovered at a similar school in Canada.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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