Dakota Midday: Poet Tells Stories of Hiawatha Asylum

Mar 2, 2015

In the early 20th century, hundreds of Native Americans from tribes around the country were sent the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. Located in Canton, South Dakota, the institution wasn’t so much a place to treat people with mental health problems as a place for Native Americans who refused to assimilate in white society.

Hiawatha Asylum
Credit South Dakota State Historical Society

The asylum opened in 1902 and operated for 31 years before it was closed following reports of abuse and despair at the facility. The site is now the Hiawatha Golf Club. At least 121 bodies of people from the asylum lie in unmarked graves in the middle of the golf course, along the fourth and fifth fairways.

In her new poetry chapbook, Hiawatha Asylum, South Dakota poet Jennifer Soule tells this dark chapter in state history through the voices of the patients, staff, visitors and others. She joined Dakota Midday and discussed the history of the Hiawatha Asylum and telling its story through poetry.