Memorial walk to honor children who died at Indian Boarding School

Published: Oct. 5, 2018 at 6:32 PM CDT
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In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, Native American children

were plucked from their families and forced to attend the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

By official government policy, they were stripped of their roots. Braids were shorn, their language forbidden. The personal and cultural disruptions reverberated throughout the students' lifetimes.

Or longer.

At least forty-five children died at the school -- some buried in anonymous graves -- without their families and without the sacred songs and ceremonies Plains Indians believe spirits need to join their ancestors beyond the physical world.

On Monday, Native American Day, that hole will be filled as the children will be honored with a march and prayer service in Rapid City on the grounds of the old school where Sioux San Hospital sits today.

"These children never came home," said Phyllis Young whose great aunt Jennie Pretends Eagle died at the school. "We are going to make sure they are in the Star World with our relatives."

Pretends Eagle was 18 when she passed away. Her family was never notified and she was lost to her relatives for more than a century until Heather Dawn Thompson, Kibbe Conti and a team of volunteer researchers discovered her grave in Rapid City's Mt. View

Cemetery last year.

The research team is working to trace the fate of all the students who

died at the school. "I had an immediate feeling of relief," said Young, 70, who lives on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. "I always knew my whole life I had a spiritual connection to the Black Hills. Now I know why. Because my lost relative is buried there."

The research also unearthed the story of Mabel Holy who died at the school in 1901.

Thompson and Conti found her grave last year, also in Mt. View Cemetery.

Thompson posted the find on Facebook. Does anyone know who Mabel Holy is, she asked? The response was almost instantaneous from Holy's relatives on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

"The family said, 'Oh my gosh. We've been looking for Mabel for 116 years and we're going to come see her now,'" said Thompson. "It was amazing."

"Amazing" may not be a strong enough word.

As a little girl in 1890 Mabel Holy survived the Wounded Knee Massacre when Chief Big Foot's band was all but wiped out by U.S. troops.In 1898 she was plucked from her family and put in the first class of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

She died there in 1901 before word could get to her family.

On May 6 last year, after learning that the research team had located the grave, Holy's 87–year–old nephew, Martin Holy, drove down with other family members to finally reunite with Mabel.

He had spent his childhood listening to tales of his missing aunt.

"I'm glad now that my uncle was able to see where (Mabel) is," said Martin Holy's niece Violet Catches. "A lot of the members of the Big Foot Tribe always say that we're forgotten people," she said. "So I imagine that (Mabel) may have thought that she was forgotten. So I told her (at the grave site), 'You're not forgotten. They found you. We

found you. We're here. We're going to do all we can to remember you from now on.' "

And on Monday that remembrance will be shared community wide with all students identified so far who died at the school.

The memorial walk and prayer vigil begins at 9 a.m. at the east end of Sioux Park in Rapid City (near Baken Park.) There will be welcoming remarks from Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender and others followed by the Memorial Walk from the park to the grounds of Sioux San Hospital.

Transportation will be provided for elders and anyone needing


The Mniluzahan Okolakiciyapi Ambassadors are hosting this memorial. Director Karen Mortimer said that the memorial will proceed rain or snow, and organizers ask families and guests to dress appropriately.