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New documentary explores history of Native American boarding school in Rapid City

Bev Warne’s mother attended a boarding school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1900s.

“She said, ‘Well, it was a quiet place. Because we couldn’t speak in our language and we didn’t know English. And if we spoke our language, we were struck.’”

Those experiences are receiving more attention after hundreds of unmarked graves were found last year at a former boarding school for Indigenous children in Canada. The pope visited Canada this week and apologized to Indigenous people for past abuses at Catholic boarding schools.

Meanwhile, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, has ordered a comprehensive review of the federal government’s boarding school policies. And the national Episcopal Church recently voted to create a fact-finding commission that will study the church’s former role in operating boarding schools.

Oglala Sioux filmmaker Jim Warne, left, and his mother, Bev Warne.
Seth Tupper
Oglala Lakota filmmaker Jim Warne, left, and his mother, Bev Warne.

Into that national conversation comes a new documentary by Oglala Lakota filmmaker Jim Warne. The film is titled “Remember the Children: Honoring the Missing Children of the Rapid City Indian School.” The free, premiere public screening is at 5 p.m. Mountain time on Saturday at the Journey Museum & Learning Center in Rapid City, where seating is limited and registration is required.

The documentary builds on the work of Rapid City activists and historians who’ve been studying the former Rapid City boarding school for several years and are working to build a memorial to the school’s children. The group has documented at least 50 deaths associated with the school, which operated from 1898 to 1933.

Jim Warne said the documentary is 22 minutes long. He hopes to raise additional funding so he can extend it to a feature-length film.

“It’s focusing on the Rapid City Indian boarding school, but there were over 400 Indian boarding schools throughout the United States,” Warne said. “So there are many more stories to tell, but many of them are similar stories of neglect and abuse.”

Jim’s mother, Bev Warne, appears in the film. Like her own mother, who recalled being struck for speaking Lakota at a boarding school, Bev said boarding-school students of her era were verbally shamed for speaking the language.

Bev said she was lucky to have many traditional Lakota experiences outside of boarding school with her grandfather and extended family. She said those experiences kept her grounded in her Lakota identity.

But she said others were forever changed by boarding schools, and those changes have affected their descendants.

“It interrupted our extended family, our elders teaching us,” Bev Warne said. “That’s what it interrupted and replaced. It was something totally foreign.”

Seth supervises SDPB's beat reporters and newscast team. He works at SDPB's Black Hills Studio in Rapid City.
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