Construction of the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs began in Canton, South Dakota in 1901.
“When Western doctors first entered Indian country, they brought with them a Christian-informed, European Enlightenment belief in madness as illness in the body—that is, the belief that loss of one’s reasoning ability came about through defects in the body, specifically, the brain,” says David Edward Walker in a past ICTMN piece. “Very soon, the now-abandoned psychiatric label, lunatic, was being applied to resistant, overwhelmed or merely displaced Native people who were the victims of colonization and oppression.”
But Native Americans didn’t have to be insane to be committed, as Walker points out. “To be destitute was the only universal criteria for admission. Whether he or she was drunk, angry or strange, or merely very poor, there was little distinction made when confining this newly-minted Crazy Indian.”
On Sunday, June 5 at noon an Honoring and Remembering Ceremony will be held for the 53 tribes across 17 states with ancestors buried at the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians Cemetery.
The ceremony will include traditional prayers with Joe Shields, Yankton Sioux Elder, and David Grignon, director of the Menominee Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Wisconsin, as well as traditional drums and songs with Haystack Butte, Yankton Sioux Tribe.
Lavanah Smith-Judah, Yankton Sioux Tribe, will do a Who Will Sing My Name Prayer Ribbon Ceremony, and Yankton Sioux Veteran’s Honor Guard will offer a tribute. There will also be a 21 Bow and Arrow Salute.