by Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Currents. Discussion »
SAGINAW CHIPPEWA INDIAN TRIBE - The reports that there may be as many as 700 sets of remains of American Indian children, who died while enrolled at the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial School, buried on abandoned property are of great concern to tribal officials of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. The tribe is based in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Site of 700 sets of remains of American Indian children
The abandoned property is known as the Mt. Pleasant Center. Buildings on the property have not been occupied for years - perhaps decades. Some have broken windows. There are signs at entrances that read: No Trespassing. State of Michigan Property Facility Closed.
“I very much try to approach my job from a business perspective, but I cannot deny the emotional side to this,”
Frank Cloutier - Saginaw Chippewa
commented Frank Cloutier, public relations director of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe of Michigan, as he discussed the property with the possible 700 sets of childrens’ remains.
The Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School was established in 1893 by an act of Congress, compelling Indian children to be removed from the care of their families to attend residential schools. The Mt. Pleasant Indian School operated until 1934, with an average enrollment of 300 students annually.
West of the empty buildings lies the cemetery with the remains of Indian children. The tribe is fearful other unknown graves may be present on other parts of the property.
“Our concern may extend beyond the known cemetery,”
said Cloutier. “If it is determined children remains are found on property beyond those known, we want to work with archeologists to ensure the remains are handled properly.”
The situation reached a point of concern for tribal officials last October when the Michigan Legislature passed a statute that will convey the property to the City of Mt. Pleasant. The statute mandates action be taken within 180 days of when it took effect. The deadline is April 22. The City of Mt. Pleasant has acted to have the land conveyed to the city.
School operated until 1934
The Mt. Pleasant Center sits on 300 acres with the closed down buildings within the City of Mt. Pleasant city limits. The property also is within the jurisdiction of the Isabella Indian Reservation, according to Cloutier.
In working with the City of Mt. Pleasant, there is a provision for eight acres to be conveyed to the Tribe. This section includes six closed buildings that were dormitories, classrooms, a chapel and a gym. Included is the known cemetery, west of the buildings.
“The Tribe will be a good steward of the land, but we need to find out what the tribal community’s desires are before we develop a plan or act,”
As part of its due diligence to determine the Tribe’s future ownership, if any, tribal officials are conducting focus groups in order to determine what actions should be taken in the immediate future. It is doing so through its Ziibiwing Center for Anishinabe Culture and Lifeways. Among tribal members being brought into the process includes, tribal administrators, elders and youth.
While some of the Indian students enrolled at the boarding school were from various tribes, besides the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe and some even from out of state, the Tribe’s proximity to the Mt. Pleasant Center creates sort of an onus for the Tribe. Though, it is conceivable that other Michigan Indian tribes may eventually be asked to be part of an ultimate solution concerning the future of the closed buildings and property.
The Tribe is acting now - even with the short timeline - because the opportunity for ownership has not arisen previously, according to Cloutier. The Tribal Council will be apprised of recommendations on April 15.
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