Historians release list of Indigenous people deaths at Oregon boarding school


A hand-tinted photograph depicting students at Chemawa School, standing under its entrance arch in Salem in 1905. A caption on the photograph reads: “Entrance to Indian Training School, Chemawa, near Salem, Oregon.” The students shown in the image are mostly younger boys, all wearing the military-style school uniform. The Pacific University Archives’ copy of this photograph is a reprint made in the late 20th century. The original photograph was issued as a postcard. (Courtesy of Pacific University)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Over the course of several decades, hundreds of Indigenous people died while in the custody of a federal boarding school for Native Americans in Oregon, according to historians with Pacific University.

The school — first opened in 1880 as the Forest Grove Indian Industrial Training School — was part of a system of schools “aimed at eradicating Native culture,” the university said.

Although it relocated and renamed Chemawa Indian School five years later, children as young as 6 years old were stripped from their parents and punished for practicing their own languages and traditions, according to the historians.

Tuberculosis, meningitis and influenza were among the top causes of death for students at the school, whose remains were often buried at the school instead of being returned home.

That changed in the 1940s, researchers said, but until now, there was no comprehensive online repository of their names, timelines and burial locations.

The university researchers published a sortable list on Monday — Oregon’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day — of about 275 students and 30 non-students who were buried at the school’s cemetery north of Salem.

Historians also found two related unmarked graves at the Forest View Cemetery in Forest Grove.

The list covers deaths dating back to 1881, Pacific University said.

The historians said in a joint release they want the results of their research to help the Indigenous people who were impacted by the schools’ operations.

“We hope to honor the memories of the students who endured the horrible system that Chemawa once embodied: a system that was designed to exterminate Native culture and which imposed untold trauma on generations of Native people,” said Associate Professor Eva Guggemos and SuAnn Reddick, an independent Chemawa historian.

Although Chemawa still operates today as a federal boarding school for Natives, it is very different from how it once was, according to the historians.

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