Ruth Hopkins: 'Problem Indians' sent to Hiawatha Asylum

"In 1898, just eight years after the Wounded Knee Massacre, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that created a new federal facility: The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. Located in Canton, South Dakota, the Asylum would be the only federal mental institution in the United States created solely for the purpose of housing and treating American Indians who were purportedly mentally ill.

The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians stands out as a particularly ugly chapter in the history of offenses committed against American Indians. It’s been largely hidden from the public, and it’s seldom acknowledged, even in native circles. Still, records and eyewitness accounts of its existence persist.

The asylum began receiving patients in 1903. Mr. Oscar S. Gifford, a U.S. Representative and a former mayor of Canton, became the first administrator of the asylum. He was not a licensed physician or psychiatrist. Amid rumors of patient mistreatment, Gifford was replaced by psychiatrist Harry Hummer in 1908. Hummer stayed on for twenty five years, although he was ultimately dismissed for malfeasance."

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Ruth Hopkins: The Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians (Indian Country Today 11/4)

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