Researchers Publish List of Deaths of Indigenous People Who Lived at 'Indian Schools' in Forest Grove, Chemawa

Spokane "recruits" to the Forest Grove Indian Training SchoolIn the fall of 1881, Martha Lot, also known as Mattie Lott, daughter of a chief of the Spokane tribe, fell sick, developing “a sore” on her side that “went to her head.” She died of her illness on Oct. 16, making her the first of an unknown number of Indigenous Americans to die at the Forest Grove Indian Training School, one of the earliest off-reservation boarding schools for Native people in Oregon.

For more than 140 years, Oregon has been home to boarding schools for Indigenous people who were taken far from their homes. Now, two historians who have researched the operations of two schools’ operations have published a sortable list of deaths of Indigenous people who attended boarding schools in Forest Grove and in Chemawa, an unincorporated area north of Salem. The database is hosted by Pacific University Libraries.

The online resource includes records dating to 1881, a year after the opening of the Forest Grove Indian Training School. The school in Forest Grove was closed in 1885 and relocated to Chemawa, where it continues to operate.

The Forest Grove school was not part of Pacific University but was affiliated with the university through, Capt. Melville C. Wilkinson, who taught military science at Pacific and founded the training school.

Learn more about the history of the Forest Grove Indian Training School and Chemewa School, and read more in Pacific magazine.

The site documents the deaths of approximately 275 students as well as around 30 non-students who were buried in the Chemawa School Cemetery. Around 170 students are known to be buried at Chemawa, and two are buried in the Forest View Cemetery. Many of the other students' remains were sent home to their families for burial, but there is a possibility that somewhere between 10-40 unmarked graves may be present in the Chemawa Cemetery.

“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 Pacific University Archivist and Associate Professor Eva Guggemos, and independent Chemawa historian SuAnn Reddick. Reddick has spent more than 20 years investigating the history of the Chemawa school; Guggemos more than a decade examining the Forest Grove school. 

The two historians have begun conversations with representatives of the contemporary Northwest tribes whose students attended the Forest Grove and Chemawa schools to discuss the burial places in Forest Grove and Chemawa, some of which are unmarked. Tribes that sent students to the schools include the Spokane, Colville, Klamath, Nez Perce, Umatilla,  S'Klallam, Sioux, Aleut, Bannock, Chippewa, Skokomish, Crow, Hoopa, Coos, Duwamish, Black Feet, Tlingit, Siletz, Chinook, Warm Springs, and Grand Ronde, among others. The tribal affiliations for some of those who died are unknown because records are incomplete.

The researchers and others at Pacific University hope to provide the results of the research to the Indigenous people who were affected by the operations of the two schools. Ultimately, the efforts may result in the repatriation of the human remains to Indigenous lands, according to the wishes of the affected tribes.

Read a directive from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs regarding the repatriation of human remains and artifacts

“I believe we have a responsibility to remember the trauma of Native people who attended residential schools,” said Pacific’s Guggemos, who is writing a book about the Forest Grove Indian Training School, which was affiliated with Pacific University, “and to act so that ‘never again’ does our government try to eradicate Indigenous peoples or their cultures.”

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When the Forest Grove Indian Training School was established in 1880, it was one of the first schools in the country devoted to “training” Native people to adopt the ways of the white people who took their lands and confined them to reservations. It was a climate when the prevailing attitude of the white majority was “Kill the Indian in him, and save the man,” as Capt. Richard Pratt, the founder of the school at Carlisle, Penn., put it in 1892.

Read A Century of Trauma at U.S. Boarding Schools for Native American Children, by National Geographic

Today, it’s widely understood that a great injury was done by the dominant culture to those who occupied the land before it. Outrage has grown, most notably in British Columbia, Canada, as researchers and descendants have learned of hundreds of unmarked graves of Indigenous people who died while attending “Indian” schools. Members of the Penelakut Tribe, who used ground-penetrating radar to discover the burial places of hundreds of former residents of schools like the Kuper Island Residential School in British Columbia, have conducted “healing sessions” and marches for those lost at the schools.

At least 11 students died in custody of the Forest Grove Indian Training School, two of whom are still buried in unmarked graves at the Forest View Cemetery. Another 174 graves have been documented at the Chemawa Cemetery, on the school grounds. Another 40 or so people may also have been buried in undocumented graves at Chemawa.

“Historians have only begun to document the impact that these schools had on Native communities,” said Guggemos, Pacific’s archivist. “Telling the truth about what happened to the students while they were in government custody is very important.”

(Photo: A group portrait of the second group of Spokane students taken to the Forest Grove Indian School from the band of Chief Lot. This photograph was taken at the I.G. Davidson Photography Studio in Portland, Oregon on July 8, 1881. At the time, the children were en route from their homes to the school. Their names as given on the school roster were: Alice L. Williams; Florence Hayes; Suzette (or Susan) Secup; Julia Jopps; Louise Isaacs; Martha Lot; Eunice Madge James; James George; Ben Secup; Frank Rice; and Garfield Hayes.)

Monday, Oct. 11, 2021