An update on the Hiawatha Asylum

One of the central elements of my most recent book, The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo, is the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians that was built at the turn of the last century in the small town of Canton, South Dakota.  I wanted to bring attention to this inhumane institution and do what I could to bring it back into the historical consciousness of America.

At the same time, a group was forming in Canton to do what they could to bring attention and some measure of honor to those people who were incarcerated there during its 30 years of existence.  This short video updates some of what is going on in this regard, and shows a few photos of and artifacts from the asylum.

I hope you will all watch it and pass the word about this institutions and the efforts being made to bring healing to all those involved.  Canton as a community deserves great praise for acknowledging this dark past and doing what it can to make things right in the present.

I hope you will also take the time to read The Girl who Sang to the Buffalo.  It will give you an inside look at the whats and whys of that sad time and that dark institution.

Here’s the link:

8 thoughts on “An update on the Hiawatha Asylum”

  1. Pingback: Kent Nerburn: An update on the Hiawatha Asylum (links to a video) This story is really a part of Kevin Annett’s work. . . ~J | 2012: What's the 'real' truth?

  2. Kevin Annett has performed invaluable work in unearthing the abuses of the boarding schools (or “residential schools” as they were called in Canada). His work, Unrepentant, documenting the abuses can be seen on youtube. Please be aware that controversy is now swirling around his involvement in the issue, and on this each person must draw his or her own conclusions. But what is incontrovertible is the fact of the boarding school abuses. And the Hiawatha Asylum simply represents a variation on the horrible theme of Native abuse by institutions supposedly dedicated to their advancement and betterment. To my mind, anything that brings it to the fore needs to be supported and praised. We dare not accept silence in regard to these brutalities no matter what differences we may have regarding individual motivations and tactics.

  3. Nice work…. You are finally bringing the lite to the dark side of our existence. There is so much interesting material out there to grasp onto and come to terms with…. Thank you everyone.

  4. Having spent 3 summers with the Yankton People, I can tell you the name Hiawatha Asylum would leave everyone looking back at me with a look that cannot be described. These great People have been hurt beyond words. Nothing I can say will every replace the honor America has let pass by. We came.. we took their land.. we tried to change them… we dishonored our gift from God.. we lost the wisdom of a wonderful People.
    Thank you Mr. Nerburn for your words that could lead to healing.
    R Kirk

  5. Ruth N Montgomery

    Hello-and thank you for “The Girl who Sang to the Buffelo” I picked this book up in a truck stop gift store and spent 2 amazing days in the pages of another world. I understand this is the last in the trilogy and hope to go back and read the others. Your writings are as comfortable as my favorite pair of slippers and I let my imagination take off with every vivid description and each new element. The little paperback has left me thinking, questioning and thirsting for more. Just a note to let you know that this is a story that I will carry with me for a very long time.

  6. Neither Wolf Nor Dog has haunted me for nearly 20 years. I lost track of your name and then by chance heard about your latest books on MPR. I read The Wolf at Twilight in two or three days. Dan’s words accuse me and I accept that.

    I was ignorant of the boarding school history and I am sorry/saddened by what happened, and the deep pains that linger. There is nothing I could ever say to Dan, but rather just listen to his words and take them in.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed your encounter with Donna and the gift of Mary’s notebook, which led you to Benais — “I knew you were coming”. The encounter with Edith is quite poignant. That’s where I stopped reading last night.

    We white people talk too much. We would learn so much more if we kept our mouths shut and did more listening. Maybe that would be the best way to honor Dan and the Native peoples.

  7. Margaret Haining

    I just finished reading “The Girl Who Sang to the Buffalo.” I have also read “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and “The Wolf at Twilight.” Thank you, Kent Nerburn, for these three important and marvelous books! You have exposed much truth that people of European extraction need to hear and know. It is painful to know the details about how the native peoples of this country have suffered, but we non-natives need to know. You have also shared such wonderful things that Dan shared with you. I a grateful he wanted to share with you so that you could spread the word about the wisdom (as well as the suffering) of the Lakota people and other native peoples. Maybe eventually humans on Earth will learn not to be afraid of each other and instead to see the benefit of learning from each other’s cultures and world views. After reading these three books, I feel like I know you. It would be an honor to meet you sometime and talk to you about spirituality.

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