A haunting exhibit of South Dakota's past at the Dakota Discovery Museum will conclude on Thursday in Mitchell, mixing artistic interpretations with a horrible period in the state's history.
The museum's Hiawatha Indian Insane Asylum exhibit, which has been on display since September, will come to a close with a reception and event to discuss the artwork on display and the lasting lessons of the facility.
Rod Brown, the manager of the Dakota Discovery Museum, said the story is "not a happy one, but one that has to be told."
"The stories have to be told because if we don't tell the stories we become increasingly ignorant about what people did and why they did it," Brown said. "Even the bad stories have to be told."
In 1898, Congress authorized an "Institution for Insane Indians," and the asylum site near Canton opened in 1903. Between 350 and 450 Native Americans from more than 50 tribes were believed to be sent to the Canton asylum, but in almost every case, medical treatment for physical or mental ailments was almost non-existent. In most cases, Native Americans who misbehaved in boarding schools or upset reservation agents were sent to the facility, and in some cases were shackled in straitjacket-like restraints.
Before the asylum closed in 1934, at least 121 people died. There were no stone markers in the cemetery, Brown said, because the government found them to be an unnecessary expense.
The exhibit includes a handful of artifacts, along with artwork created by three artists: Jerry Fogg, Angela Behrends and Chris Francis. Fogg, for example, replicated the plots of the asylum cemetery on one of the walls in the exhibit with tags signifying each person buried there.
Other art displayed uses replicas of records that were recovered from the asylum, such as rolls of those who were imprisoned there, and letters from the Department of the Interior with the records of people who were admitted and died while at the asylum. Only the cemetery of the asylum remains for physical proof that the facility existed.
"The historian in me reacts negatively to this, the fact that this was not just an effort to sweep it under the rug," he said. "There was an effort to bulldoze it under the rug."
Brown said he appreciates the chance to have the artwork itself convey the message about what that time in South Dakota history meant to members of Native and non-Native cultures in the state.
"The objective behind all of this is that we learn and we understand, and based on that, we change what needs to be changed," Brown said. "The result, hopefully, is that individuals accord other individuals the courtesy and respect that we all deserve."
The reception on Thursday will include a presentation from Anne Dilenschneider, of Sioux Falls, and the three artists - Fogg, Behrends and Francis - are expected to be on hand, as well. The event takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, which is the last day the exhibit will be on display. Dilenschneider and Fogg are both South Dakota Humanities Council scholars and members of the Keepers of the Canton Native Asylum Story.
There is no cost to attend the event on Thursday, but donations are encouraged. If interested in attending, contact the museum at 605-995-2122.