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Tribe commemorates anniversary of boarding school closing

“Honoring, healing and remembering” was the theme for Tuesday’s events in Mount Pleasant.  This week marks 83 years since the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School officially closed, and The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan held a remembrance event on the grounds where the school stood.


“The part of today that is remembering is truly about the children who died as a result of this school,” says Shannon Martin, director of the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways in Mount Pleasant.  “In its 41 years of operation, Federal administrative records indicated only five children died. Our research team at Ziibiwing Center and volunteers have uncovered 225 deaths that can be attributed directly to the school.”


Starting in 1893, Native American children were separated from their families to be enrolled in federally-funded boarding schools here in Mid-Michigan and across the country.


“Greatest causes of deaths we believe were malnutrition and being overworked,” Martin says. “So when you have 15, 16 year olds who are having heart attacks, they're malnourished and they're being overworked. They're not being cared for. Those were the greatest causes of death as well as what's termed ‘accidental’ and ‘accidental’ can be anything from severe abuse to diseases that went untreated. And that’s just par for the course for many of these schools.”


Martin adds that the boarding school’s history is a personal one for her.


“My grandmother went to the school. So I am just one generation removed and I still feel the effects of that. So that's the healing part; the celebration part is that we are still here. We still have strong families, strong communities and we are rebuilding and filling in the gaps of our language, of our spirituality, and of our culture.”


Part of the day’s events included a ceremonial Grand Entry dance, with participants wearing the name of each student who died here. Central Michigan University President George Ross and Mount Pleasant Mayor Kathy Ling were also on hand to offer their reflections on the importance of remembering and studying area history.  The day also included ceremonial traditions and a guided tour of the site for attendees.


“Today is important because this history has been remiss from the United States curriculum,” Martin says. “We feel it's our responsibility to acknowledge that within our own communities and families, but also to create a sense of awareness for the public to understand what had happened to Native America during this era of time.”


The Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School closed in 1934 and was turned into a hospital and residential care facility for those with mental disabilities.