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Graves of Native American children are discovered in Oregon with Anglicized names

Just weeks after an alarming number of unmarked indigenous graves were found in Canada, a DailyMail.com investigation has discovered similar travesties at an Oregon gravesite that is part of a Native American boarding school.

The small graveyard, known as the Chemawa Cemetery, was part of the school for indigenous children located just north of Salem, Oregon,  and is believed to contain not only unmarked graves but graves that are marked with Anglicized names – not the children’s true indigenous names.

DailyMail.com visited the cemetery and saw grave markers with ‘Anglo’ sounding names like, Daniel Boone, James Flemming, Alice Hayes, Angle Adams, Frank Howard, Benny (no last name), George, Rosie and Burns.

Several areas in the cemetery had no grave markers at all, just empty spaces. The markers may have been moved or stolen.

‘Anything is a possible,’ Marsha Small, a doctoral student at Montana State University, told DailyMail.com. 

Small has used ground penetrating radar and magnetometry beneath the Chemawa Cemetery where she discovered 222 sets of remains, more than the 208 the federal government had documented.

‘There could well be several unmarked indigenous bodies buried at the Chemawa Cemetery,’ she told DailyMail.com. 

DailyMail.com visited the the Chemawa Cemetery north of Salem, Oregon and saw grave markers with ‘Anglo’ sounding names like, Daniel Boone, James Flemming, Alice Hayes, Angle Adams, Frank Howard, Benny and more

A small graveyard, known as the Chemawa Cemetery, that is part of the school for indigenous children, is believed to contain the unmarked graves of children

A small graveyard, known as the Chemawa Cemetery, that is part of the school for indigenous children, is believed to contain the unmarked graves of children

Several areas in the cemetery had no grave markers at all, just empty spaces. The markers may have been moved or stolen

Several areas in the cemetery had no grave markers at all, just empty spaces. The markers may have been moved or stolen

Marsha Small, a doctoral student at Montana State University, told DailyMail.com she discovered 222 graves from the late 1800s to early 1900s, many of which were marked with Anglicized named like Jennie Dick

Marsha Small, a doctoral student at Montana State University, told DailyMail.com she discovered 222 graves from the late 1800s to early 1900s, many of which were marked with Anglicized named like Jennie Dick

Some of the markers were missing last names, like Benny who passed November 13, 1918. The Anglicized names and lack of last names make it impossible for family members to identify their loved ones

Some of the markers were missing last names, like Benny who passed November 13, 1918. The Anglicized names and lack of last names make it impossible for family members to identify their loved ones

‘It was an atrocity for the United States to take away these children’s native names so their parents and ancestors could never find them,’ Small said

Small believes there are likely many unmarked indigenous graves at the Oregon cemetery, but believes it doesn't compare to the hundreds that were discovereed in Canada last month

Small believes there are likely many unmarked indigenous graves at the Oregon cemetery, but believes it doesn’t compare to the hundreds that were discovereed in Canada last month 

Last June, unmarked graves were discovered by Canada’s Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia, Canada. Then a few weeks later 751 unmarked graves were found at the site of a former residential school in Saskatchewan.

Small believes the number of possible unmarked indigenous graves at the Oregon cemetery is nowhere near the number recently discovered in Canada. 

But that’s small comfort to the American Indian families who have tried to locate the remains of their children over the years. 

Marsha Small (pictured) told DailyMail.com she used ground penetrating radar and magnetometry beneath the Chemawa Cemetery where she discovered 222 sets of remains

Marsha Small (pictured) told DailyMail.com she used ground penetrating radar and magnetometry beneath the Chemawa Cemetery where she discovered 222 sets of remains

The Oregon cemetery is part of the Chemawa School, an off-reservation boarding school run by the Bureau of Indian Education, within the Department of the Interior.

It’s the oldest continuously operated residential boarding school for Native American students in the U.S. and one of only four off-reservation schools still in existence – the others are the Sherman Indian School in Riverside, California, Flandreau Indian School in Flandreau, South Dakota, and Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma. 

DailyMail.com has not yet been able to verify that these schools too have cemeteries with graves that are ither unmarked or marked inappropriately. 

According to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition there were 367 schools in 29 states, 73 remain open today, and 15 are still boarding but on Indian reservations.

The Chemawa School opened in 1880 originally as an elementary school for both boys and girls, becoming a fully accredited high school in 1927. At the peak of its enrolment in 1926, the school had 1,000 students.

Today the school serves 9-12 graders and has approximately 425 students, primarily from the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

The focus of teaching at the time of its founding was vocational and agricultural training, dairy farming, and animal husbandry. At one time the 40-acre school boasted 70 buildings on its grounds including a library, hospital, dormitories, barns and other buildings relating to vocational programs. 

Most of the older buildings have been demolished and the school moved to the present campus in the 1970’s. The Chemawa cemetery, which opened in 1886, may be the only part of the old campus that still is intact, according to published reports. 

With high mortality rates in the late 1800’s early 1900’s almost every native school had its own cemetery.   

The Chemawa School opened in 1880 originally as an elementary school for both boys and girls, becoming a fully accredited high school in 1927. Today the school serves 9-12 graders and has approximately 425 students, primarily from the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska

The Chemawa School opened in 1880 originally as an elementary school for both boys and girls, becoming a fully accredited high school in 1927. Today the school serves 9-12 graders and has approximately 425 students, primarily from the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska 

At the peak of its enrolment in 1926, the school had 1,000 students. This undated photo shows the boys of the Chemawa school after it was moved to Salem in 1885

At the peak of its enrolment in 1926, the school had 1,000 students. This undated photo shows the boys of the Chemawa school after it was moved to Salem in 1885

This photo from 1897 shows students in front of the girls' dorm at the Chemawa School. The focus of teaching at the time of its founding was vocational and agricultural training, dairy farming, and animal husbandry

This photo from 1897 shows students in front of the girls’ dorm at the Chemawa School. The focus of teaching at the time of its founding was vocational and agricultural training, dairy farming, and animal husbandry

Small said she foound that that other than the first row of graves, the markers and the locations of the remains don’t match up at Chemawa.

‘There may be several unknown indigenous bodies buried in the cemetery, but I don’t think it’s in the hundreds.’

Her radar technology could only penetrate the soil about three to four feet into the ground leading her to speculate more remains could be buried deeper.

‘Right now, there are more questions than answers,’ said Small, who intends to return to the cemetery in September to continue her research. ‘It’s not about numbers, finding one unmarked indigenous grave is one too many.’

How Native American boarding schools stripped children of their indigenous names, banned traditional foods and barred them from speaking in native tongue

The purpose of the Natvie American boarding school was to culturally assimilate native boys and girls to the European American culture mostly by forcibly removing them from their families, converting them to Christianity, and teaching them English. They were punished for speaking their native language and stripped of their traditional clothing.

They were given new ‘white’ names and surnames. Traditional native foods were forbidden to be served and the native children were taught how to use knives, forks and spoons.

When indigenous students first arrived at these boarding schools they were forced to change out of their tribal clothing and their hair was cut.

Punishment was harsh and swift. There are reports that students had their mouths washed out with soap for speaking their native language and locking them up with only bread and water for other rule violations. They often suffered physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual abuse.

Many of the children never made it back home, dying from disease, abuse and more. It’s estimated there may have been 40,000 children who died in or because of these institutions.

If the indigenous people resisted the school, the Native American agents on the reservation would often withhold rations or send in agency police to enforce the policy. In the more extreme cases, police were sent onto the reservation to take children away from their parents.

Reportedly, Navajo police officers avoided taking ‘prime’ children and would take children assumed to be less intelligent, those not well cared for or those physically impaired.

In 1860, the Bureau of Indian affairs established the first boarding school on the Yakima Reservation in Yakima, WA.

By 1885, 106 Native American schools had been established.

In 1879, Col. Richard Henry Pratt, established the most well known of the off-reservation boarding schools, the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Pratt’s motto was, ‘Kill the Indian, save the man.’ 

Pratt believed that off-reservation schools established in white communities could accomplish this task by immersing Native Americans into the mainstream of American life.

Carlisle was the only off-reservation boarding school built in the East; all others were built in the West.

In 1891, the government issues a ‘compulsory attendance’ law that enables federal officers to forcibly take Native American children from their homes and reservations.

By 1900, there were 20,000 children in Native American Boarding Schools and by 1925 that number tripled to 60,000.

By 1926, nearly 83 percent of Native American school-age children were in the system, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

In 1973, 60,000 American indigenous children are estimated to have been enrolled at Native American Boarding Schools.

In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act passed giving indigenous parents the legal right to deny their children’s placement in off-reservation schools. As a result many large Native american boarding schools closed in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

By 2007, the number of Native Americans in boarding schools declined to 9,500.

By June 2021, almost 1,000 children were found in unmarked graves at two defunct indigenous boarding schools in Canada. 

 

 

What haunts Small is that many of the native children who were buried in the cemetery had their names Anglicized – and that is the name that often shows up on the grave marker.

‘It was an atrocity for the United States to take away these children’s native names so their parents and ancestors could never find them,’ added Small.

‘Many of these kids were ripped from their homes and taken far away to a boarding school, they were then victimized again by being buried in a graveyard some of them thousands of miles from their homes under a different name.

The original grave markers at Chemawa were replaced in 1960 using a 1940 plat map. By 1960 the cemetery had fallen in disrepair, overgrown with bushes and weeds and most of the grave markers that were originally made of wood were gone.

The markers placed on the graves were accurate as far as the 1940 plat map, but who knows how accurate the plat map was, added Small. 'How are the natives supposed to locate their ancestors when the names and the dates on the markers are incorrect?' she asked

The markers placed on the graves were accurate as far as the 1940 plat map, but who knows how accurate the plat map was, added Small. ‘How are the natives supposed to locate their ancestors when the names and the dates on the markers are incorrect?’ she asked

The students at Chemawa School came from several different tribes from across the Northwest and as far away as Alaska. Small said at least 50 tribes are represented in the cemetery

The students at Chemawa School came from several different tribes from across the Northwest and as far away as Alaska. Small said at least 50 tribes are represented in the cemetery 

With high mortality rates in the late 1800's early 1900's almost every native school had its own cemetery. Several of the students died from illness, yellow fever, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza and the pandemic of 1918

With high mortality rates in the late 1800’s early 1900’s almost every native school had its own cemetery. Several of the students died from illness, yellow fever, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza and the pandemic of 1918

The markers placed on the graves were accurate as far as the 1940 plat map, but who knows how accurate the plat map was, added Small.

‘How are the natives supposed to locate their ancestors when the names and the dates on the markers are incorrect?’ she asked.

Milton 'Tee' Sahme, 44, a member of the Simnasho Tighe tribe, who is a water protector and activist, said his aunt attended Chemawa in the early 1920s as a young child. She died in 2002

Milton ‘Tee’ Sahme, 44, a member of the Simnasho Tighe tribe, who is a water protector and activist, said his aunt attended Chemawa in the early 1920s as a young child. She died in 2002

‘Obviously a native isn’t going to be named Daniel Boone, so how would one start to look for their ancestors if the names are incorrect? You couldn’t even begin to look.’

At the time AT WHAT TIME??? JUST 1918?

several of the students died from illness, yellow fever, tuberculosis, pneumonia, influenza and the pandemic of 1918. The students came from several different tribes from across the Northwest and as far away as Alaska. Small said at least 50 tribes are represented in the cemetery.

Small said the only way to have a better picture of what lies beneath the ground is to have an archaeological survey, but believes that it will most likely never happen and would never recommend it.

‘You would have to go to each of the individual tribes of the people who are buried in the cemetery and get their permission, but you don’t know all of the tribes that are represented in cemetery so you really can’t ask for permission, it’s a Catch-22 situation. And being Northern Cheyenne I can’t say what another tribe should do.’

In the meantime, Small said she is going to come back out and do more research and to hopefully find answers for the ancestors of the deceased.

‘This work needs to be done by a native, it’s not to be done for publicity or by some big corporation, it needs to be done with reverence and respect.

Small isn’t the only person who believes there could be several indigenous unmarked graves at Chemawa.

Milton ‘Tee’ Sahme, 44, a member of the Simnasho Tighe tribe, who is a water protector and activist, said his aunt attended Chemawa in the early 1920s as a young child. She died in 2002.

Sahme said, ‘My aunt used to tell us about the horror stories at Chemawa Indian Boarding School. She said that she had to change her first name from Tunastunmi to ‘Nettie’, he thinks because it was too hard for them to pronounce her first name.’ 

Sahme (picturede standing over a grave) said, 'My aunt used to tell us about the horror stories at Chemawa Indian Boarding School. She said that she had to change her first name from Tunastunmi to 'Nettie', he thinks because it was too hard for them to pronounce her first name'

Sahme (picturede standing over a grave) said, ‘My aunt used to tell us about the horror stories at Chemawa Indian Boarding School. She said that she had to change her first name from Tunastunmi to ‘Nettie’, he thinks because it was too hard for them to pronounce her first name’

Another worker Gene Hiebert, 58, a member of the Tlingit tribe from Alaska who worked as a truant officer at Chemawa from 1983-2000, said he brought his 14-year-old daughter Aurora to the cemetery 'to show her where some of her ancestors are possibly buried'

Another worker Gene Hiebert, 58, a member of the Tlingit tribe from Alaska who worked as a truant officer at Chemawa from 1983-2000, said he brought his 14-year-old daughter Aurora to the cemetery ‘to show her where some of her ancestors are possibly buried’

Aurora Hiebert, 14,  watches on as her dad tends to a marker stone in the Chemawa Cemetery. Her father said, 'It's saddens me that we may have ancestors in this cemetery but don't know their burial location'

Aurora Hiebert, 14,  watches on as her dad tends to a marker stone in the Chemawa Cemetery. Her father said, ‘It’s saddens me that we may have ancestors in this cemetery but don’t know their burial location’

Sahme said his aunt told him that ‘they couldn’t speak their native language, or they would get their mouths literally washed out with soap. If they tried to use sign-language, they would get their hands struck by a wooden ruler. They were often whipped for talking, etc. They were locked in closets as punishment, it was horrible.’

Sahme also believes not only in the Chemawa Cemetery but in the adjacent lots that housed the hospital and old school there could be hundreds of unmarked graves.

‘You had kids that were forcibly taken from their homes, it’s only natural that some of them ran away and possibly died along the way, there is a train track, a river and a slew where they could have drowned. I’m sure if you look hard enough in the area you’ll find remains.’

Sahme added that he is saddened by what happened to the children buried at Chemawa and recently lead a prayer run to the cemetery, ‘to try to bless the kids and put them at peace.’

‘In the native culture children are our future. This kids who are buried here in marked and unmarked graves didn’t get the chance to go home. There was no closure in death, they didn’t get that.’

Another worker Gene Hiebert, 58, a member of the Tlingit tribe from Alaska who worked as a truant officer at Chemawa from 1983-2000, said he brought his 14-year-old daughter Aurora to the cemetery ‘to show her where some of her ancestors are possibly buried.’

‘It’s saddens me that we may have ancestors in this cemetery but don’t know their burial location.’

Preston McBride, a Dartmouth College Scholar told Reuters he has documented over 1,000 deaths at just four of the over 500 schools Native boarding schools that existed in the United States. He said, ‘It’s quite likely that 40,000 children died either in or because of these institutions.’

Small added, ‘it’s my life’s work to bring some sort of resolve for these children and their ancestors.’ 

Current Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has ordered a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative requesting an investigation of the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential boarding schools and to identify the children who attended and their tribal affiliations, as well as the location of known and possible student burial sites located near school facilities.


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