St. Joseph's Indian School

From Asylum Projects
Jump to: navigation, search
St. Joseph's Indian School
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Chamberlain, SD
Alternate Names
  • Chamberlain Indian School
  • St. Joseph's School


The school was founded as a Catholic mission school in 1927 by Henry Hogebach, a Roman Catholic priest from Germany. School opened in the fall of 1927 with 53 Lakota (Sioux) boys and girls.

As a residential school, it provided dormitories for a range of Native American children, primarily from the Lakota and Sioux reservations on the Great Plains. The school was originally directed to assimilate Native American children to the majority United States culture, influenced by European traditions.

In November, 1929; Thanksgiving week, two government doctors and a nurse paid the school a visit to look after the health of the children. Six had their tonsils removed and five had their eyes operated on for Trachoma.

In early January, 1930 the laundry building was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in the Spring. The original school was destroyed by fire in 1931, and was slowly rebuilt over the next few years before the Depression, with great help from Catholic donations.

During the Depression (1934-1935), many nurses and children fell ill and had little to eat, the pipes often froze, and the electricity was cut off. One nurse's journal from the time reports-- "The depression is at its peak and times are hard. In the spring Sr. Pauline took sick and had to be taken to the Pierre Hospital. She recovered somewhat, but before the new school year opened the Lord called His faithful handmaid home. Sister Cecilia and Helen Durkin were quarantined for several weeks after contracting scarlet fever. Many of the children were undernourished and sickly. In November we sent one little girl away because her condition was a danger to the other children with whom she associated. She had neither parents nor home. An old Indian lady took her, but she was very poor and had not much herself. We tried everything to get the child into a hospital or sanitarium. We had no success the girl developed tuberculosis and died three months later."

On January 7, 1941 Fr. Henry was killed in a car accident, leaving Sr. M. Raphael Superior to run the school the following year; with 160 children. In 1942 a huge number of seagulls came in to eat the growing grasshopper and pest problem; bringing good hay and fate livestock to the school. The ongoing war brought higher prices for everything the school produced. At the same time many of the older boys at the school were leaving for Military Camp with the US Army.

By 1950 the enrollment had grown to 230 children, many of them small. It was also during this time (1956) that the Our Lady of the Sioux Chapel was built. Yet the graduation class in 1953 numbered only 16. In 1960 the enrollment was up to 331 with a new Principal, Sr. Canicia; numbers the school was not built to hold. And in 1968 a new dormitory building (current Akta Lakota Musuem and Cultural Center) was built to relieve overcrowding.

In 1970 the present dining hall was completed, and in 1975 a swimming pool was added to the grounds. From 1980-1983 the conversion from dormitories to residential living units was completed. Each home houses 10-12 students and one houseparent.

The school continues to be owned and operated by the Priests of the Sacred Heart, non-Native Americans. In the 21st century, approximately 200 Native American children attend the residential school. Today students live in family-style group homes with other students. The school's campus expanded throughout the 1990's, and continues to expand breaking ground on a new health center in 2016.

In the 2010s, St. Joseph's School has been investigated for several issues related to its fundraising practices. In 2013 the school failed to meet the standards for charity accountability. n 2014 it was the subject of investigative reports by CNN and Indian Country Today. The school sent out mass mailings featuring offers of made-in-China dreamcatchers and fictional, emotional letters from nonexistent students. The school has been criticized by the Better Business Bureau for sending out a letter claiming they had insufficient funds to heat the school. At the time of this claim, the school had millions of dollars free to spend.