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The Dakota Sioux Experience at Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools

The Dakota Sioux Experience at Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools

by Cynthia Leanne Landrum

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The Dakota Sioux Experience at Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools illuminates the relationship between the Dakota Sioux community and the schools and surrounding region, as well as the community’s long-term effort to maintain its role as caretaker of the “sacred citadel” of its people.

Cynthia Leanne Landrum explores how Dakota Sioux students at Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota and at Pipestone Indian School in Minnesota generally accepted the idea that they should attend these particular boarding institutions because they saw them as a means to an end and ultimately as community schools. This construct operated within the same philosophical framework in which some Eastern Woodland nations approached a non-Indian education that was simultaneously tied to long-term international alliances between Europeans and First Peoples beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. 

Landrum provides a new perspective from which to consider the Dakota people’s overt acceptance of this non-Native education system and a window into their ongoing evolutionary relationships, with all of the historic overtures and tensions that began the moment alliances were first brokered between the Algonquian Confederations and the European powers.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496213532
Publisher: Nebraska
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 860,531
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Cynthia Leanne Landrum teaches history and Indigenous studies at Portland State University and Clark College. She is the author of The Valley of the Kings: Rehabilitation of the People of the Columbia River and Pacific Rim through Ceremonialism.

Read an Excerpt


Missionaries and Education in the Upper Midwest

When artist George Catlin first traveled to Pipestone, Minnesota, in 1836, this was the culmination of many trips that he made west of the Mississippi River beginning in 1831 in order to record the images of First Peoples he encountered. As the first non-Native to document his approach to the Pipestone quarry, he was fully cognizant of the fact that this was a sacred space and that all territorialities were to remain on the outer perimeter as people passed through or mined the red rock for ceremonial purposes (rock he later renamed Catlinite after himself). Referred to as the "Paradise of the Gods," Pipestone was one of many known quarries and sacred places that once extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the West Coast. As "Keepers of the Upper Midwest," the Santee Sioux priests within the region performed certain ceremonies tied to the quarry at critical junctures during the calendar year, which were connected to specific rituals that were also performed by "sentinels" who lined the Atlantic Seaboard and the Pacific Rim as the "Keepers of the Eastern and Western Doors" — like the threading of spools on a tightly wound loom. The stone is believed to derive from the blood of the ancestors. One account of the origin of the stones states that during a great flood members of various tribal groups went into higher elevations in an effort to escape the rising water. Unable to survive the deluge, all but one person perished, and the bodies of those who had died, from many tribal groups, turned to stone. The young woman who managed to escape later gave birth to twins, beginning the repopulation of the earth. After the death and subsequent resurrection, this sacred site became a neutral territory where the stone could be quarried in peace.

When Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Boarding Schools were founded in 1892 and 1893, they symbolized a form of transformation and resurrection for the Dakota people (as well as for other tribal nations living within the region), as the schools became dual arenas that were simultaneously neutral and inter-tribal — serving as community centers, area hospitals, and federal agencies. After the Minnesota Sioux War of 1862, in particular, the deluge of clergy, government officials, military personnel, and immigrants signaled that in order for the tribes living within the region to maintain their long-term ties to the land, they would have to "shape shift" and learn to live in both worlds. For many this was a spiritual holocaust that was exacerbated by the presence of Christian clergy at every diplomatic turn, as they tried to discern if these individuals were "friend or foe." Fully cognizant of what the Eastern Woodland tribes had endured since the 1600s, the Dakota people had an awareness of the options available to them in reference to the diplomatic balancing act they were engaged in as the nineteenth century continued to unfold.

Myriam Vuckovic suggests that from the time Europeans began to explore and settle the North American continent, the introduction of formal, European-style education became an integral part of their attempt to "civilize" and subdue the continent's indigenous population. Many colonizing Europeans in positions of power acted upon their conviction that among First Peoples, an education system had not previously existed. To them Natives were heathens and savages, whose souls needed to be saved and whose pagan beliefs and customs had to be destroyed. This was the same philosophical premise that had been applied to the Britons (among others) when the Christian missionaries first arrived on their shores from Europe in 597 AD.

According to English folklorist Eric Maple, magic was the natural philosophy of the indigenous and transplanted peoples of Great Britain who lived in the shadow of the woods and mingled their traditions, which were the vestiges of pagan beliefs inherited from antiquity, with rituals and myths that had always been present in the landscape. When the Christian missionaries arrived with the teachings of Jesus Christ, they found a potent realm in which the lore of the forest was fully intact and interwoven with the whispers of heathen gods, which the natives could not easily relinquish in order to embrace another faith with a central messiah figure at the helm. Maple further suggests that the wise men of Great Britain belonged to the same universal priesthood that the spiritual leaders living in the Upper Midwest (of what later became the United States) represented, and that their sole purpose was to maintain the realms of both the living and the dead in the land in which they had been placed.

The assumption that First Peoples neither educated their children nor had anything to teach was devastating to Native Americans, as it had been to peoples indigenous to Britain, who had been systematically assimilated to the Christian education system that, in many ways, ran counter to how their cultures had traditionally functioned. In all preindustrial societies, learning was regarded as a lifelong, holistic process that included oral tradition and the concept of learning by observing and doing, which encompassed the exposure to the words and lessons of tribal elders and priests. Values, moral instructions, traditions, and a sense of history were passed down from one generation to the next through storytelling and the children's participation in tribal ceremonies. This combination of listening, observing, and hands-on experience did not fit the Christian paradigm of formal education, and as early as the 1600s, French, Spanish, and British missionaries and colonists established formal schools for indigenous children along the Eastern Seaboard and Pacific Rim.

Throughout the colonial era and the first half of the nineteenth century, Indian education was never truly systematized. In some instances it was introduced as a component of long-term mutually beneficial international alliances between nation states, because some tribal leaders desired to attain an intimate knowledge of the Euro-American world that was rapidly unfolding around them. Apart from the education systems among the southeastern tribes, native schooling was administered by churches and missionaries and reached only a limited number of indigenous children. This rapidly changed in the second half of the nineteenth century as the federal government became increasingly involved, as it unilaterally applied an education model and infrastructure under the auspices of the Peace and Quaker Policy, which was orchestrated by Ely S. Parker (Seneca) from 1869 to 1871. It was under this legislation that the schools eventually evolved away from tribally controlled and localized mission facilities to federally funded on- and off-reservation boarding institutions and day schools.


As early as 1834 missionaries of the Presbyterian, Congregational, Episcopal, and Roman Catholic churches were represented in the western hinterlands of North America (among tribes such as the Sioux) at the same time that George Catlin first visited Pipestone. Many who moved west of the Mississippi River had participated in the revivals and tent meetings that dominated the "burned-over district" of western New York during the Second Great Awakening. Most of the revivalists remained in the region, but some moved west by choice or by force because of their extreme piety, radical ideas, or socially deviant behavior.

The clergy who established missions in the West and Upper Midwest, supported assimilation as they assisted government agents in the effort to eliminate cultural, if not political and economic, tribalism. After 1850, however, the government also sent secular teachers to the various Sioux communities and increased funds to tribal agencies to encourage assimilation. This occurred only after the Sioux had negotiated a series of treaties that began with the Treaty of Prairie du Chien in 1825 and concluded with the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851. Advocates of assimilation believed that educating Natives was a critical step in this process. This phenomenon became more pronounced after the Civil War, when missionaries among the Sioux (beginning with federal funds mandated by the Peace and Quaker Policy), sought more influence and established day and boarding schools to facilitate their objectives. These individuals later established boarding schools for the Rosebud, Pine Ridge, Standing Rock, Crow Creek, Yankton, Stephan, and Fort Totten (St. Michael's) reservations.

While the main focus of missionary work was the conversion of Natives to Christianity, many missionaries as well as federal officials also hoped to erode Native traditions, destroy cohesiveness in tribal communities, and thereby make assimilation easier. Officials believed that converted First Peoples were more likely to identify with Euro-American culture after they had been immersed in an educational facility operated by missionaries and federal officials. Evidence indicates, however, that internal tribal policies were more influential than missionaries in bringing converts to Christianity, when and if this transformation occurred. In general, most nineteenth-century tribal leaders seemed more interested in the education system as a vehicle for empowerment rather than for displacing their own spiritual beliefs and rituals with the doctrines of Christianity.

Jacqueline Fear-Segal suggests that the central objective of the Dakota people at this time was to maintain their longstanding presence in Sioux country. Therefore surface or full compliance with an alien religion and education system were part of a larger strategy of not being removed from the Upper Midwest to Indian Territory, which was exemplified through the life of individuals such as George Sword. An Oglala Sioux headman, tribal court judge, and spiritual leader, Sword played an intermediary role for his people by walking "the tightrope strung between competing loyalties with agility, integrity and unfailing dignity." Literate and well versed in Euro-American culture, he was baptized as an Episcopalian, yet he bore the Sun Dance scars on his chest until the end of his life — which proved that he never fully walked away from the religion of his ancestors. Further, he candidly stated that he still feared the traditional spirits attached to the landscape despite his ostensible conversion to Christianity, "because the spirit of an Oglala may go to the spirit land of the Lakota."

As the missionaries gradually infiltrated the western hinterlands with the message of the Christian Messiah, certain individuals were more instrumental than others in proselytizing and creating long-term diplomatic ties with Natives and their respective communities. Among these individuals were Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, Dr. John P. Williamson, Stephen Riggs, and Alfred Riggs.

Pierre-Jean De Smet, John P. Williamson, Stephen Riggs, and Alfred Riggs

The Dakota were first exposed to the Catholic religion by the visits of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet in 1839, who stopped among them on his trips up and down the Missouri River to visit and minister to his flock near the Rocky Mountains. He never stayed with the Dakota people for any length of time, yet he managed to form a friendship with leaders such as Struck by the Ree (in 1844, Struck by the Ree was given a medal of Saint Mary that he always wore). Struck by the Ree (among others) initially requested that De Smet be allowed to start a school among them under Article 4 of the Treaty of Washington of 1858. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCM), however, ignored the request and assigned Presbyterian missionary Dr. John P. Williamson to the reservation, where he eventually opened a day school at the agency.

Williamson was met at first with stern opposition ,and when he appeared uninvited on Yankton lands, tribal leaders who did not want the Christians among them voted to send him off the reservation. Struck by the Ree overruled their decision and decided to give the missionary an opportunity to prove himself. After Williamson met with Struck by the Ree's approval, they became fast friends, cooperating and working together for many years.

By the fall of 1870 Williamson operated two day school with eighty-three pupils. Bruguier states that according to the oral history within his tribe, there was a story told by those familiar with Struck by the Ree's position regarding the education of his people, and it pertains specifically to the two day schools. The "traditionalists" initially resisted the agent's overt efforts to establish schools for their children. Bruguier suggests that this, in an indirect way, worked to the advantage of the agent, who desired to use the educational funds for other projects rather than for teachers and buildings. Bruguier further states that when Struck by the Ree was read the provisions of the 1858 treaty that applied to education, he suddenly "had a change of heart," hitched up his team, and drove all over the agency to compel the Yankton people to send their children to school. As a result the schools were soon filled to capacity.

Struck by the Ree got along well with Williamson, to the point of occupying a place of honor in his Presbyterian church. At the main entrance facing east, the left side was solely maintained for Struck by the Ree. The services did not start until the Yankton chief arrived, sat in the bishop's chair, and knocked on the floor with his cane as a signal to begin. Bruguier states that until Williamson passed away in 1917, he repaid the tribe with over forty years of good deeds as an interpreter and stenographer for Struck by the Ree and any member of the tribe who needed assistance. Bruguier further states that the only major flaw with individuals such as John P. Williamson, Pierre De Smet, Stephen Riggs, and Alfred L. Riggs was that they advocated for the adoption and practice of Christianity. This in many ways led to the gradual erosion of the Dakota culture and religion, for those who were not strong in their faith.

Alfred L. Riggs, who was the son of Ohio native Stephen Return Riggs, was a missionary with the American Board who was first placed at Lake Harriet mission near Fort Snelling in 1837 and later joined the mission at Lacqui-parle in 1839. A student of the Dakota language, he opened a mission at Traverse de Sioux in 1843 and eventually built a boarding school for Dakota children near Hazelwood station at the mouth of the Yellow Medicine River.

The Hazelwood Republic was an experimental colony of Dakota people that was established in Minnesota on July 29, 1856. The members of the community were willing to convert to Christianity, draft their own constitution based upon that of the national government, adopt a non-Native education system, and abjure the Dakota way of life. With $200 from the ABCM combined with $500 of their own funds, members built a church and a boarding school, which were filled to capacity. This was the first successful experiment among the Sioux in reference to boarding institutions. The idea for the Hazelwood Republic came from the voluntary government formed among the Cherokees and Choctaws. The missionaries working among the Eastern Woodland tribes and the Dakota Sioux considered this the best way to prepare participants for eventual citizenship and integration into "American society."

Thomas Maroukis suggests that in the same year in which the Hazelwood Republic was established, 1856, the Yankton underwent a change in leadership when Padaniapapi (Struck by the Ree) became head chief. Replacing the "highly respected and popular" Chief War Eagle (ca. 1785–1851), the leadership of Struck by the Ree was a crucial turning point in Yankton history, as he headed a Yankton contingent to Washington to negotiate the Treaty of 1858, led the Yankton to their new home, and served as the essential person in helping the Yankton adjust to reservation life in the antebellum era. Further, under his guidance the Yankton were forced to contend with the pressures of acculturation from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Christian missionaries, and encroaching American settlers, all part of the reality of an expanding America.

During the 1850s and 1860s in particular, relations with the U.S. government and the recent non-Native emigrants exacerbated the division between upper and lower bands of the Dakota Sioux. Maroukis suggests that the lower bands wanted to follow a policy of cooperation and accommodation with Europeans and Euro-Americans, whereas the upper bands supported resistance and noncooperation, which culminated in the Minnesota Sioux War of 1862 and also signaled the point of no return for the Dakota people in reference to international diplomacy.


Excerpted from "The Dakota Sioux Experience at Flandreau and Pipestone Indian Schools"
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Table of Contents

Part 1. History
1. Missionaries and Education in the Upper Midwest
2. The Early Years
3. The Indian New Deal
4. Termination Legislation and Closure of Pipestone Indian School
5. Self-Determination
Part 2. Student Reflections
6. Flandreau Indian School
7. Pipestone Indian School

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