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Unci Tha-anpetu The Day of the Grandmothers proclaimed

Phyllis Young display a buffalo hide painting of a boarding school painted in the 1940’s that was purchased at an auction by the queen of Finland of the Oyate. (photo by Ernestine Anunkasan hupa)

RAPID CITY – For nearly a century after the closing of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School (1898-1939) the children who attended were virtually erased from history.

But the Mniluzahan Unci’s (the Rapid City grandmothers) never forget about these children and at their urging, Heather Dawn Thompson, Kibbe-McGaa-Brown and Karen Eagle and others began a quest to uncover the history of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School and the land that was once designated for use by the Indian School.

During their research they uncovered the location of the cemetery where children who had passed on while attending the Rapid City Indian Boarding School were buried.

For the past several years the Oyate has marched in the Remembering the Children Memorial Walk which “honors and remembers all boarding school survivors, descendant of survivors and the Wakanyeja (children) who never made it home.”

This year for the 5th annual Remembering the Children Memorial Walk organizers honored the Unci, the grandmothers, who for decades carried the oral history of the boarding school and passed it on.

Marchers met at 10 a.m. at in front of the flower garden in Sioux Park where Executive Director of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School Project, Amy Sazue, opened the event.

“Part of the project includes bringing in as many of the descendants of the children who died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School. We get as much input from them and we include them in all aspects of planning,” Sazue said and introduced Phyllis Young, a descendant of one of the children buried there.

“My grandmother was missing from the annuity rolls and we never knew where she was. She was in the boarding school here at Rapid City,” Young said. “My grandmother was Jenny Pretends Eagle her grave up there said JP Eagle. She died up here at the boarding school and we never knew where she was.”

She said her family is currently searching for her grandfather Barney Pretends Eagle who went missing after attending Carlyle Indian School, “There are so many people here and all over the country who are helping us. Just for your information there are more than 750 graves from the Oceti Sakowin who are buried at Carlyle.”

Next to speak was another of the descendants, Violet Catches from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who said she was glad so many were in attendance to remember the children who had been forgotten only to have their voices heard again.

“My grandmother was one of them. After she had survived Wounded Knee they took her (Mable) and a sister of hers, Julia, and their brother who was my grandfather, Leon Holy,” Catches shared. “There were two of them that were never seen again. That is Mable and Julia. We are still looking for Julia.”

She said her family has gone through Catholic records and they think she may have been at Marquette University.

Next to speak was Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender who read a Proclamation Declaring October 10, 2022 as “The Day of the Grandmothers, Unci Tha-anpetu.” The Proclamation reads:

“WHEREAS, On this Native American Day we gather together to honor all of the children who attended and who passed away at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School; and

WHEREAS, The existence of the Indian Boarding School in Rapid City is a difficult piece of history to address, especially considering the children were the ones who ultimately suffered from its existence; and

WHEREAS, Although difficult, it is our responsibility, and obligation in memory of these children, to continue addressing the controversial decisions made in our community’s past, which continue to trouble our present; and

WHEREAS, While we are unable to change the past, we are able to face the difficult truths head-on through honest dialogue and collaboration in an effort to forge a better tomorrow for all children in this community.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Steve Allender, Mayor of Rapid City, do hereby proclaim Monday, October 10, 2022, as ‘The Day of the Grandmothers, Unci Tha-anpetu’ in Rapid City in honor of the grandmothers who have carried this piece of history and honored the memory of the children lost for generations.”

After the Proclamation was read, the Sicangu Youth Council who were involved in repatriating nine of their Sicangu relatives who had died and were buried at Carlyle Indian School. They read the names of the 50 children who died at the RC Indian Boarding School and handed out plaques bearing the names of those children to their descendant and others who had gathered for the event.

After all the plaques were handed out hundreds of marchers began their trek to the future site of the Remembering the Children Memorial site beyond the parking lot at Canyon Lake United Methodist Church. There a ground blessing took place to prepare the site for construction which will begin this fall, along with a meal and presentations from community and tribal leaders.

The Rapid City Indian Boarding School Lands Project will develop an interpretive site and memorial to protect and remember the children who died at the Rapid City Indian Boarding School (a federal assimilation school that operated from 1898 to 1933). The project will explore how the distribution of the school’s land in the 1940s contributed to ongoing tensions within their community in the Black Hills.

Team members include: Amy Sazue, Cante Heart, Bobbie Koch, Eric Zimmer, Valeriah Big Eagle, Kibbe Brown, Sandra Fire Lightning, Eirik Asa Heikes, LaFawn Janis, Tatewin Means, Lorraine Nez, Jennifer Read, Beverly Stabber-Warne, Heather Dawn Thompson, and Robin Zephier.


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