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Report on Native American boarding schools identifies 30 South Dakota sites

Memorial Walk attendees carry signs with names of children who died while attending boarding school in Rapid City in 2019.
Chynna Lockett
Memorial Walk attendees carry signs in 2019 with names of children who died while attending boarding school in Rapid City.

The Department of Interior is releasing the first volume of a report investigating deaths, abuse and other history associated with Native American boarding schools.

Dozens of those schools were located within South Dakota’s borders.

The new federal report shows South Dakota had 30 boarding schools — the fourth most boarding schools in the country.

Federal government policy forced assimilation for Native children who were taken from their families and placed in the schools, where some teachers sought to eradicate Native language and culture.

Amy Sazue is Sicangu and Oglala Lakota. She’s the executive director of the Remembering The Children memorial project.

“Very notably, it’s just a first step,” Sazue says of the report. “Tons of records that still need to be located. Churches, offices, state offices and city offices that need to be held accountable. Graves and children that need to be found and protected."

So far, the investigation has identified at least 500 deaths at boarding schools across the country. It's found 33 marked burial sites, six unmarked burial sites, and 14 locations with both marked and unmarked burial sites. The Interior Department says it will not make public the specific locations of burial sites, to protect against grave-robbing, vandalism and other disturbances.

Researchers in Rapid City have previously determined at least 45 children died at the Rapid City Indian School, which is now the location of the Oyate Health Center.

The memorial project will honor those children at a spot behind West Middle School in Rapid City. The group will break ground on the memorial later this year.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.