Audio Installation Stories
Children of Indian Boarding Schools
Children of Indian Boarding Schools
Native American experts Carolyn Kualii, Ester Herandez, Janeen Antoine and Carol Wahpepah were my connections to adults who experienced Indian boarding schools.
I learned a lot about this time in history. I interviewed 4 women who were girls in boarding schools. Two of the women declined to be included in the project.
Ione Mad Plume, 66 years old
Amskapi Pikuni Blackfeet Tribe in Montana
1966 age 13 moved to Pierre Indian School in South Dakota
Her father named her Ione for Ionian island a place he remembered fondly visiting while he was in the army. It means the watcher of the graves. Her last name
Mad Plume is the name of her great grandfather who wore a large feather plume, as he powerfully stood in front of the warriors and led them into battle.
Ione is a member of the Amskapi Pikuni Blackfeet Tribe in Montana. Her family lived in Browning and Two Medicine, Montana. The Medicine Lodge was on one side of the river and on the other side was the Holy Family Mission Church – thus the town name Two Medicine. The locals farmed the land and raised chicken, pigs, horses, and cows.
Nearby is the famous Piskun or Buffalo Jump, where bison once were hunted.
There are many Native graves buried here. Non-Native scavengers come to ravage and rape the sacred land, digging up artifacts buried with ancestors and taking buffalo robes off the bodies. Ione said the ancestors are watching. Their descendants smudge the grounds to clear the negative energy.
In the early 1950’s the family started Rodeo Ground, and Ione’s father created
the famous Hell’s Half Acre Rodeo. The rodeo was a big event each year for
the community of Two Medicine, and bronco riders came from all over the country to compete.
Ione is of a family of 7 sisters and 2 brothers. She was the 2nd eldest sibling.
The family lived in a three room house they shared with her grandparents.
They moved to the reclamation house (employee housing) when her father became the monitor of the canals for his employer. They called it the “white house.” Her mother was selected by the tribe elders to become one of the original Community Health Representatives and she represented Salt Lake City.
She traveled a lot off the reservation.
Ione was the loner and different from her siblings. She felt she was on the sidelines, while her sisters held the limelight. One sister was barrel horse racer and had her own saddle and shin guards. Ion had to make her own protection using towels wrapped around her legs so she wouldn’t get bruised and bloodied.
When Ione was 5 years old, her Grandmother Night Gun raised her. Her mother kept cutting off her long beautiful hair. Grandmother would pray and bring up
the sun with sweet grass and sage and make tea for her hair. Magically Ione’s hair would grow long again and grandmother would braid it for her.
Ione’s older cousin touched the girl cousins from 5-10 years old. The boys would put mice and snakes in her long thick hair to terrorize her. To survive, young Ione blocked the abuse out of her mind.
In 1966, her parents told 13-year-old Ione she would be leaving the family. They put her on the bus with a trunk of clothes and some money for food.
They gave her no warning or explanation. Ione traveled through Montana and Wyoming on a Greyhound bus that made frequent stops to pick up other girls
along the way. She cried the whole trip. She finally arrived at Pierre Indian School in South Dakota. The school was kindergarten through 8th grade, but there were even toddlers there.
Ion found out that one of her male cousins was also sent to the same school, along with to 2 other Blackfeet boys and 3 girls. 2 weeks after arriving, they ran away after the 4-5:30am kitchen duty shift. Their freedom was not for long and they got caught.
After that Ion had to wear pajamas 24/7 and walk up and down the hallways as punishment. She had to clean the toilets in her pjs. When she wasn’t working
or in class, she was locked up and the other kids would knock on the windows to humiliate her.
Every night Ione would cry, praying the family would come get her, but they never did. In the winter it was very cold. She was provided with only one blanket.
Ion would check to see which staff was on night duty and if it was the big tall guy with glasses she kept awake in fear. All she could think was “please don’t let him hit me.” She could hear him approaching with the metal taps on his shoes.
He scraped the wall with a wooden dole, making a rhythmic sound. She heard children screaming in the other rooms. Every time he got to her bed he beat her, whacking her legs, the sides of her body, and her back. It is a traumatic memory
that still makes her cry decades later.
Ione was only allowed to come home at Christmas. She begged to her parents to let her stay there. She told them about the abuse but they did not believe her.
On one trip back to the boarding school she missed her bus in Bismark.
She remembered the officer’s name - Officer Harvey, who took her to his home
to stay overnight with his family. Ion pleaded to be sent back to her family but
he could not do that, and she was back on the bus to the boarding school.
In restitution, her family made moccasins for Officer Harvey.
Ione was released after 1 year of the boarding school. The experience was
so traumatic she doesn’t remember how she got home on the bus. She then
attended Browning High School. She never felt her family loved or accepted her.
At 18, she left Two Medicine and her family, never finding out why she was sent to boarding school. In 1970 she was awarded Indian Junior Miss for her faith and face painting. She wanted to keep the door open so she would always be able to come home. 1971, Ione went to Eastern Montana College in Billing. She tried to go back to Two Medicine again in 1973, staying with her best friend this time. In 1974 she was crowned Miss Blackfoot and Miss Indian Montana runner up.
In 1975, she left Montana at the age of 22 to go to California. She married and had 2 boys. She got divorced from her abusive husband, and then lost child custody because she couldn’t make it to court. Ione eventually got her sons back. She was not going to ever abuse her children.
Ione decided she needed to make a change and entered New Dawn detox program.
Her ex-husband died of an overdose and she moved into her children’s home in
San Leandro. She remarried and majored in social services at Merritt College.
In 2001 she received her certification to be an alcohol and substance abuse and community social services counselor.
Ione will always have a home in the Blackfeet Reservation. Currently she is pondering if she wants to have a house there. Maybe it is time to close the door.
Ione believes that creator puts things and people in your life for a reason.
She is 29 years clean and sober.