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Laura Waterman Wittstock: Horrors at facility for 'insane' Indians

The Canton Indian Insane Asylum, also known as the Hiawatha Insane Asylum, was located in Canton, South Dakota. Photo from Robert Bogdan Collection via National Institutes of Health

Radio host Laura Waterman Wittstock discusses the history of the Hiawatha Insane Asylum in South Dakota:
The perverse history of governmental-Lakota/Dakota relations took a more sinister turn when the Hiawatha Insane Asylum was built 10 years after Wounded Knee, December 29, 1890. It operated for over 30 years before it was torn down. The bodies of those Indian men and women who died there are buried under what is now a golf course in Canton, South Dakota.

After the military wars against Indian people, the battle for their hearts and minds moved relentlessly forward. Even in death, the 121 buried on the former grounds are mocked as golf balls whiz over their heads and the former president of the Canton Area Historical Society Don Pottranz refers to their bizarre grave as, “It’s something that people are aware of but it’s ancient history now.”

With no knowledge whatsoever of native cultures, languages, customs, and spiritual life, South Dakota Senator R.F. Pettigrew introduced Congressional legislation in 1899 to create the nation’s first native insane asylum. Congress appropriated $45,000.

In 1900 construction began after U.S. Representative Oscar Gifford (former Canton mayor) arranged for the purchase of 100 acres of land two miles east of Canton.

Get the Story:
Laura Waterman Wittstock: Native American Gulag: The Hiawatha Asylum Cemetery (Indian Country Today 2/3)

Related Stories:
Editorial: Preserve Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum history (5/8)
Group to hold ceremony at site of former BIA insane asylum (5/6)
Ruth Hopkins: 'Problem Indians' sent to Hiawatha Asylum (11/4)

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