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Charlie Feister, a citizen of the Klamath tribes, was a runaway from the Chemawa Indian School when he was shot in 1907 while attempting to steal food from a store in Chemawa, Oregon.

A short article in the American Chemawa Weekly student newspaper describing the incident fails to mention that Charlie was 11 years old at the time of his death. Charlie and a friend lived in a small camp in the woods not far from the school.

We know these details today thanks to the combined 35 years of hard work of SuAnn Reddick and Eva Guggemos who published the results of their research on a public website on Indigenous Peoples Day.

The Deaths at Chemawa Indian School website contains the names, burial sites, and notes of students who died at the school between 1880 and 1945. About 270 students, including some from Humboldt County, died in detention at Chemawa ; 175 are buried in the school cemetery. According to research by Reddick and Guggemos, the remains of around 40 students were taken home; the locations of the remains of at least 50 students are unknown.

“We offer this site with the families and tribes of Chemawa students first and foremost in our hearts and minds. We hope to honor the memories of the students who endured the horrible system that Chemawa once embodied: a system designed to exterminate the culture and which has inflicted untold trauma on generations of Aboriginal people, ”Reddick and Guggemos wrote in their introductory notes to the website.

Reddick, an independent scholar, writer and historian from Chemawa, and Guggemos, archivist and associate professor at the University of the Pacific, gathered information for the website entirely from public records located in the National Archives and Records Administration, Archives of digital newspapers, county death certificates as well as data. included in Chemawa cemetery map. The site is hosted by the University of the Pacific.

“It was just about organizing the information and making it available to people doing research,” Reddick said.

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Recent media stories of discoveries of children’s graves in Canadian residential schools have encouraged women to make their research available to the public as soon as possible. While there is still a lot of work to be done, Reddick and Guggemos have agreed that they need to share the information with the public.

The time seemed right.

“Suddenly, despite the horrific events in Canada, the work we have been doing all these years is relevant; the media was finally talking about residential school cemeteries,” Reddick said.

An overgrown and neglected cemetery

Reddick began work in 1996 when she was hired to create a recreational ropes course in Chemawa to use as part of the school’s addiction therapy program. It was then that she noticed an overgrown area of ​​the campus containing rows of identical metal plaques engraved with names and dates marking the graves of deceased children at school. She soon learned that the cemetery had been demolished in the 1960s, destroying many of the original wooden markers.

According to Reddick’s conversations with two former school employees, Louis Belgarde and Charlie Holmes, the local tribes were upset by the demolition of the cemetery and demanded that it be restored. Holmes, who taught commerce in Chemawa, had his students create the metal plaques with the names of the deceased children. Using school records and a cemetery plan, Holmes and Belgarde marked the original grave locations as best they could and installed the new markers. Holmes and Belgarde have since died.

Standing in the graveyard, Reddick felt like the children were telling him they wanted to be found; they wanted their names to be recognized and recognized.

“So I started my research and it snowballed; I became the official historian of Chemawa,” Reddick said.

She did most of her work on a volunteer basis.

About 10 years ago, however, Reddick’s research gained momentum when Guggemos joined the University of the Pacific. At the suggestion of archive assistant student Shawna Hotch, a Chemawa graduate, Guggemos became interested in the history of the Forest Grove Indian training school, which was later moved from Salem to Chemawa to become the school. Chemawa Indian. Guggemos met Reddick and learned of his research; the women quickly launched into a collaboration.

What started as an intellectual and academic project for Guggemos, a professional archivist, quickly became personal.

“I have four children; it’s hard to read these things about kids this age who die and not think about what it would be like to happen to your own kids, ”she says.

It is not news to anyone in tribal communities that these deaths have occurred, Guggemos noted.

“By documenting their deaths in this way, perhaps we can show patterns of what happened and provide another trail of evidence from the past,” she says.

Who they were and how they died

Most of the children buried at Chemawa were from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, in that order. Some were also from California, including Humboldt and Del Norte counties, Idaho, and the Plains States.

The researchers note that the database includes the tribe of students as shown in Chemawa’s records, but note that “the school’s interpretation of a student’s tribe may not always match the how a student would have self-identified “.

Many children died during the Spanish flu epidemic; tuberculosis, however, was the leading cause of death. Several children, like Charlie, died trying to escape; many drowned trying to swim across rivers before being brought back to school to be buried. Others died in suspicious circumstances, including young Liberty Shelton from Hoopa.

Like Charlie, Liberty was 11 when he died of a fall from the third floor of the boys’ dormitory on August 17, 1926, shortly after being taken from his home in Hoopa and sent to Chemawa. A local newspaper that reported on his death wrote that school officials said “the boy was likely to be walking in his sleep and likely came out through the open window.”

According to the article, Liberty was supposed to be sent home for burial, but instead he was interned in the school’s demolished cemetery. With him is Nellie Sanderson, who died nearly two decades earlier of what is only described as “a lingering illness.” Barely 7 years old, she was from Arcata, according to Chemawa records. An article in the school newspaper marking her death describes her as a “dear, bright little girl.”

Typhoid, pneumonia, influenza and the Spanish flu have taken over others, including Gertrude Hostler and Adeline Quimby, who died two days apart in October 1918. Three children also from Hoopa – Walter Dow, Della Dow and Lilly Dow – died in rapid succession over the course of three years. The first was Walter, 9, with influenza in March 1900, followed by Lily, 7, with typhoid in June 1901 and Della, 10, with pneumonia in July 1903.

“It is hard to imagine what these children and their families must have gone through. The best we can do to honor them today is to protect and fiercely support the children we have now,” said the president of the Hoopa tribe, Joe Davis. “By honoring and recognizing those we have lost in this way, we can help ensure that this type of atrocities do not happen again. Our prayers are with all those who have been lost and their families. Although we must never forget, we must also not give up the hope of being healed. “

Melodi George-Moore, Hoopa Valley High School teacher and ceremonial leader, told the Two Rivers Tribune that she remembers stories of seniors who hid their children in the forced school system to avoid the atrocities suffered by so many children during the residential school era. Only a generation or two away, she said the trauma persisted.

“We are unwrapping the trauma of our ancestors – the survivors. And we are the survivors,” she told the newspaper. “This true story was not mentioned in the textbooks. Part of colonization is the erasure of the true story. There are a lot of people who never come to terms with this trauma and these emotions. . There is a cycle of mourning and a way we deal with grief. Our bodies remember the trauma. We are tired of carrying this burden. We have to unwrap the trauma, tell the truth about our story, bear witness that the story is recognized and prayed for truly healing. “

Speaking to the California State Parks Commission last month before voting to restore the Sue-meg name to the state park north of Trinidad, Rosie Clayburn, Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, s’ is hushed up by recounting how the types of intergenerational trauma inflicted by residential schools are not long in the past. She said she had the opportunity to speak with former Yuroks who were among those who were taken from their homes and sent to residential schools, claiming that the scars of what they had endured – including beatings received for speaking their native language – were always evident.

“And those people, when they started talking yurok again, it was difficult for them,” she said. “They were collapsing and crying.”

Regarding the creation of a memorial or repatriation, Reddick and Guggemos agree that the tribes should make these decisions. “I imagine this will involve a lot of internal discussion on their part,” Reddick said.

Freddie Lane, a citizen of the Lummi Nation, frequented Chemawa in the 1980s; he expressed his disappointment that the students did not learn the history of the school.

“We heard from our parents and grandparents about the atrocities that happened there,” Lane said.

Lane believes authorities chose to demolish the cemetery in the 1960s because they wanted to erase the school’s troubling past.

“The good work of Eva and SuAnn gives us hope to preserve this story,” Lane said.

On Indigenous Peoples Day, Lane and others gathered at Chemawa Cemetery. “We wanted those children buried there to know that we haven’t forgotten them; we are working on healing,” Lane said.

The decision of the women to go public with their research now was driven by a desire to give people some hope.

“This job is tough but it can be done. It’s not an impossible job,” Reddick said.

Reddick and Guggemos hope to share what they’ve learned with others, the methods, strategies, and resources that have worked best for them. They want to publish articles and maybe organize workshops for those who are interested.

“Beyond specific information about Chemawa, the most important thing about this research is to show that these names of children can be found,” says Reddick.

Kimberly Wear newspaper digital editor contributed to this report.

A version of this story was first published by Indian Country Today.


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