Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians
Courtesy South Dakota Historical Society
Though many attempts have been made to lock up Indians, none are as notorious and depraved as what happened at the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians.

Ceremony: Remember and Honor Those Buried at Hiawatha Asylum


Construction of the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs began in Canton, South Dakota in 1901. 

“When Western doctors first entered Indian country, they brought with them a Christian-informed, European Enlightenment belief in madness as illness in the body—that is, the belief that loss of one’s reasoning ability came about through defects in the body, specifically, the brain,” says David Edward Walker in a past ICTMN piece. “Very soon, the now-abandoned psychiatric label, lunatic, was being applied to resistant, overwhelmed or merely displaced Native people who were the victims of colonization and oppression.”

But Native Americans didn’t have to be insane to be committed, as Walker points out. “To be destitute was the only universal criteria for admission. Whether he or she was drunk, angry or strange, or merely very poor, there was little distinction made when confining this newly-minted Crazy Indian.”

RELATED: 'A Living Burial': Inside the Hiawath Asylum  for Insane Indians

On Sunday, June 5 at noon an Honoring and Remembering Ceremony will be held for the 53 tribes across 17 states with ancestors buried at the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians Cemetery.

The ceremony will include traditional prayers with Joe Shields, Yankton Sioux Elder, and David Grignon, director of the Menominee Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Wisconsin, as well as traditional drums and songs with Haystack Butte, Yankton Sioux Tribe.

Lavanah Smith-Judah, Yankton Sioux Tribe, will do a Who Will Sing My Name Prayer Ribbon Ceremony, and Yankton Sioux Veteran’s Honor Guard will offer a tribute. There will also be a 21 Bow and Arrow Salute

Dr. Erich Longie, tribal historic preservation officer for the Spirit Lake Sioux in North Dakota, will serve as speaker at the event. In his more then 30 years in education, he has been an elementary teach, an adult education instructor, a tribal college dean, and a tribal college president. Through his company, Spirit Lake Consulting, he has also been a consultant for a number of tribal programs. He is a veteran of the Marine Corps, and the first member of his tribe, who was born and raised on Spirit Lake to obtain a doctorate degree.

A buffalo pot luck lunch will be served.

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