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Thursday, July 21, 2022

We know their spirits are still here

 'Their spirits are still here': Tribe, state to search for remains at North Dakota boarding school

The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the State Historical Society of North Dakota recently agreed to partner in a search for the remains of children around the former Fort Totten Indian Industrial School, which lies on the Spirit Lake Reservation in the northeastern part of the state.

Denise Lajimodiere, author of a leading book on Native American boarding schools, uses old photos possibly depicting the graves of soldiers to orient herself in a forested area near the Fort Totten State Historic Site, which formerly served as a boarding school for Native American youth. Lajimodiere believes the bodies of former students may be buried near the former school on the Spirit Lake Reservation in northeast North Dakota.
Dave Samson / The Forum
Editor's note: This is the fifth story in an occasional series on Native American boarding schools and their impact on the region's tribes.

FORT TOTTEN, N.D. — On a cloudy October morning, Denise Lajimodiere walked through brambles and tall grass with her eyes to the ground.

Consulting a photo from the 1980s, the scholar scanned the prairie terrain near the Fort Totten State Historic Site for small, tan boulders that could mark graves long hidden from view.

After stumbling across one, she grabbed a plastic baggie of tobacco from her coat pocket, held a pinch tight in her left fist and said a prayer for the bodies that may have been buried under her feet more than a century ago.

Historic site employees believe the boulders could be the vestiges of a cemetery for U.S. soldiers buried in the mid-1800s. Lajimodiere thinks the gravesite may also contain the remains of Native American children who died while attending a boarding school at the former military post.

We know their spirits are still here,” Lajimodiere said solemnly while walking the site on the Spirit Lake Reservation in northeast North Dakota.

Lajimodiere, an enrolled Turtle Mountain citizen whose father and grandfather attended Fort Totten, found evidence that at least 13 Native American boarding schools existed in North Dakota.

The reservation’s federal Indian agent, William Forbes, recruited the Grey Nuns, an order of Catholic sisters from Montreal, to run a “manual labor school,” historian James Carroll writes in the book “Fort Totten Military Post and Indian School.”



Despite successfully turning in the necessary paperwork this spring to have the former boarding school students' remains exhumed, the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Spirit Lake tribes will likely have to wait another year before they can bring the boys home.


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