Details surrounding Chemawa deaths highlighted by local researchers

For over 25 years, SuAnn Reddick compiled information on the deaths of over 300 students at the Chemawa Indian School from 1880 to 1945. Together with Eva Guggemos and the University of the Pacific, she shared this information on a public website for the first time earlier this month. .

Freddie Lane, citizen of the Lummi Nation and tour director for the Red Road to DC trip, nods in prayer during a ceremony honoring the children buried at Chemawa Cemetery on Friday, May 14, 2021 (Rachel Alexander / Salem Reporter )

Over 270 Indigenous children from across the Pacific Northwest died in the custody of Chemawa Residential School from 1880 to 1945.

For decades, details of their deaths have been difficult to access – buried in federal archives and public records.

On Indigenous Peoples Day on October 11, SuAnn Reddick and Eva Guggemos released an public site which for the first time compiles the scattered details surrounding these deaths.

“In order for us to even begin to recognize what has happened and move forward towards redress, we first need to know why we apologize,” said Guggemos, assistant professor at the University of the Pacific.

Chemawa, which remains open today in northern Salem, just east of Keizer Station, was one of several off-reserve residential schools established in the late 19th century to assimilate Indigenous children into mainstream society. by erasing their indigenous cultures and languages.

Recently, the discovery of more than 1,000 unmarked burial sites of Indigenous children at similar residential schools in Canada led US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to announce the Federal Indian Residential Schools Initiative. The initiative will launch an investigation into the history and legacy of more than 365 boarding school sites in the United States

But research for the Deaths at Chemawa Indian School website began long before this initiative brought the issue to light.

In 1995, Reddick first saw Chemawa Cemetery and its many rows of identical grave markers. While some of the markers have been named and dated, none of them indicated of tribal origin.

“How would we know who they really were and how they died?” How could their families find them? Reddick wrote on the website, which is hosted by the University of the Pacific.

In 2003, using the data she and others had collected, Reddick created two spreadsheets: one with all the deaths recorded at the school since 1880 and the other with the names of the gravestones in the cemetery of Chemawa. Side by side, the lists highlighted many missing details and, in some cases, missing graves. A map of Chemawa cemetery also confirmed the likelihood of anonymous graves.

“Every piece of information I got was added to it, more questions and mysteries,” said Reddick, an independent researcher who volunteered as a historian in Chemawa for 11 years. “And so it became necessary to answer these questions and solve these mysteries and it never stopped.”

Reddick used government, archival, and public records, in addition to verbal accounts from other sources, to compile detailed schedules and spreadsheets.

“We haven’t created anything new. We just took old things and organized them in a way that would be easy to understand. And we’ve been doing it for a very long time. That’s what researchers and archivists do, ”Reddick said.

Guggemos began collaborating with Reddick in 2019, but had worked for six years before researching the history of the Indian school founded in Forest Grove in 1880 and moved to Salem in 1885.

Guggemos’ research examined the students, the school, and its origins in depth, but she said one of her main goals was to determine the location of the graves of the Forest Grove students.

Together, Reddick and Guggemos were able to correct and fill in the gaps in each other’s work. Their findings document the deaths of 300 students and non-students in Chemawa and Forest Grove. For most of these 300, they also identified the name of each individual, tribe, reserve of origin and the date and cause of their death. The locations of around 50 other student remains can still be found.

The two researchers say they hope the website will make their findings “more easily accessible, primarily to relatives of Chemawa students, but also keeping in mind the wider public interest in telling the truth about the deaths at. school “.

Reddick and Guggemos point out that they do not speak on behalf of tribal communities in any way. They hope their data will give tribes a chance to find out where the children were buried and relatives to learn more about their ancestors.

“We cannot speak for anyone who has had these personal experiences and to whom there are serious and agonizing personal responses to this information,” Reddick said. “It’s a very small piece of a big puzzle, but our hope is certainly that we can help and make things easier.”

This article originally appeared in Keizertimes and is reprinted with permission. Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.

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