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Building a memorial for Rapid City's lost children

Rapid City Indian School.jpg
RememberingTheChildren.org

This interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

The organization "Remembering the Children" is developing a memorial to honor the countless children who died while attending Indian Boarding Schools from the 1800s to 1960s. It will occupy the place where children who attended the Rapid City boarding school are said to be buried. The memorial was conceived with input from survivors, tribal leaders, elders, and spiritual advisers.

When completed the memorial will feature a plaza, prayer path, storyboards, and boulders with the names of each child who died at the Rapid City boarding school. This site will begin construction in the fall and is expected to be complete in May 2024.

People gathered in Rapid City on Monday for a march and ground-blessing ceremony. Amy Sazue is the executive director of the Remembering the Children Memorial Project and joins Lori Walsh on In the Moment.

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Lori Walsh:
On this year's Native American Day, which was Monday, a memorial walk in Rapid City brought people together for a solemn task.

The organization Remembering the Children is developing a memorial to honor the countless children who died while attending Indian boarding schools from the 1800s to the 1960s. That memorial will occupy the place where children who attended the Rapid City Boarding School are said to be buried. And it was conceived with input from survivors, tribal leaders, elders, and spiritual advisors.

Well, Monday's March and Ground Blessing Ceremony is just one more step toward making that project a reality. Amy Sazue is Executive Director of the Remembering the Children Memorial Project.

Amy, welcome back. Thanks for being here.

Amy Sazue:
Hi, Lori. Thanks for having me.

Lori Walsh:
This is an ongoing conversation as we work through understanding the full history of boarding schools. But this memorial project is also ongoing. Tell me a little bit about the project and how it began and what your vision for it is.

Amy Sazue:
Yeah, so this project started almost 10 years ago now when one of our team members, Kibbe Brown, was asked at an anniversary event for the Sioux San Hospital about what the plans were for graves. And was like, "What graves?" This started this whole independent research project that has not only given us a better understanding of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School, the boarding school era, and policies across the country, but how the history of this particular boarding school has contributed to shaping the Rapid City community.

So we started this research project. It turns into this big project. We found all of these issues that came out of what we found in that independent research. And this part of the project will be concentrated solely on the building of the Remembering the Children Memorial, which is 100% about protecting, honoring, and remembering the children who lived and died while attending the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.

Lori Walsh:
I went online and you can flip through names and ages of children who died. For me, I start that like you start any other looking through a memorial online with a certain amount of awareness and then all of a sudden it just hits you, the magnitude and the age and how young these people were. And pretty soon it's dizzying. Tell me a little bit about the kids.

Amy Sazue:
That was one thing we touched on this year. The project has been going for almost 10 years, and for the last five years we've done the Memorial Walk and we include as many descendants and relatives and ancestors of the children that died as possible. As the project grows and the attention to the project grows and people start hearing what we're doing and then hearing these names, their relatives start coming to us and so we got to meet even more this year.

But for our team, we were also acknowledging or noticing that after all these years, it feels like we know them, too. All their names and the stories that we know, it feels like we know them. That's almost natural, that's part of Lakota way of life, acknowledging the relatives and ancestors and the ways that we're all interconnected. And so they are our family. They are our relatives, too, just in this work that we're doing. And that's the focus and we always go back to that.

It's about the children. It's about remembering them and for sure, honoring their names and acknowledging that they went to school, like much of us this morning sent our kids off to school. And this many, so at least 50 of them, didn't come home. The magnitude of that never ceases to amaze me or hit me right in the heart as a mom. But we don't take it lightly. It is something that we recognize and we hold dearly and that we keep the focus on.

Lori Walsh:
What can a memorial do to preserve space for remembering these kids, these children? And then also challenging people who encounter the memorial to do things differently in the modern era? What do you think the potential is for changing someone's heart, beyond just awareness?

Amy Sazue:
Yeah. Those are both good questions. What we think of with the memorial site, the primary goal is to protect, honor, and remember those children. Secondarily, or what happens when we do that is that we are creating a place for their relatives, their ancestors and descendants to come and see them, to visit them, to feed them, to have ceremony there, to do all the things that we do as Lakota people to honor our ancestors. We're creating a place for those families to come and do that.

We're building this pathway, this bridge, to a long overdue healing and grieving process. One of the descendants of Mabel Holy, Violet Catches she always says, and this never escapes me either. But she says, "My mom spent her whole life looking for her," for Mabel Holy. And so Violet is now like, "You found her." And now she gets to be the one to honor her and to remember her and to carry her name.

And we hope to do that for each one of those children. And even the ones without names, we're creating a place for their relatives, for this community to go and visit them and to acknowledge that they were here and that their presence is still felt in this community. And so I think that's what we hope to do in remembering them.

For non-Native community members or people who don't know this history or who aren't directly affected by it, it also creates a place for them to come and learn. It creates a place for them to come and learn on their own and to feel whatever they feel, maybe acknowledge their family's own involvement in some capacity, and process that on their own.

It's a place of healing, it's a place of truth telling, and it's a place for community to come together and to acknowledge that this isn't just the history of the Indigenous people in this area or of the Indian community in Rapid City. This is our shared history, shared. This school, these children, the way the land was distributed after this school closed, these things all shaped the Rapid City community as a whole. And we see the way it has impacted the Indigenous community and in Rapid City, as well. But it gives them our non-Native or anybody else who doesn't know or isn't aware of these things, it gives them a place to come and learn and to learn in their own way, at their own pace and then to process it in whatever way they need to, as well.

Lori Walsh:
Yeah. To learn more about the project, visit RememberingTheChildren.org.

Lori Walsh is the host and senior producer of In the Moment.
Carl Norquist is a producer and writer for In the Moment. An EMMY-winning producer, Carl previously worked for KTIV News 4 in Sioux City, IA. Carl is a Minnesota native and graduate of Augustana University with majors in Art and English.
Chris is a producer for In the Moment.