Hiawatha Insane Asylum

Canton, South Dakota

From the announcement for the Tenth Annual Memorial Prayer Ceremony in Canton in 1998:

"In 1898, Congress passed a bill creating the first and only Institution for insane Indians in the United States. The doors of the asylum, located justover the Nebraska border in Canton, South Dakota, were first opened for the reception of patients in January 1903. Department of Interior investigators revealed that during the time the asylum housed patients, many died because they were denied medical care. According to Harold Iron Shield, founder of the Native American Reburial Restoration Committee, patients were "traditional spiritual people or teenagers who misbehaved or people the Indian Agent didn't like." A 1933 investigation conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that "a large number" of patients showed no signs of mental illness.

Land was set aside for a cemetery, but the Indian Office decided that stonemarkers for graves would be an unwarranted expense. Today, the cemetery (121 names) is located in the middle of a golf course in Canton. No one knows the cause of death of the incarcerated or why they were even at the asylum. The National Park Service has recently added the cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places."

Please also see Lincoln County - Hiawatha Insane Asylum for more information and images, including a burial listing with names.

For more information on the Native American Reburial Restoration Committee, please click here. (archived site, no longer maintained).


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