Saginaw Chippewa tribe asks trespassers to avoid former Indian school

Tribe says trespassers are desecrating an important site in its history
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 3:33 PM EDT
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MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (WJRT) - The Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan is asking people to treat a former Indian school property with respect.

The former Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School operated from 1893 to 1934, providing forced education and assimilation classes for 300 Indian children per year on average. The school later was transformed into a housing and education facility for people with cognitive or developmental disabilities.

The 320-acre site near Pickard and Crawford roads on Mount Pleasant’s northwest side holds special meaning for the tribe as a place that caused painful family separation and unwanted education.

Students were forbidden to speak their native language, honor American Indian culture or practice their spirituality. They primarily did laundry, farm work, cleaning and other manual labor for the majority of the school day while receiving basic academic instruction.

The school was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the tribe received a grant to install a protective fence around two buildings while plans continue for repurposing the property to a use that provides healing for the tribe.

However, the tribe says urban explorers or thrill-seekers are trespassing on the property and causing damage. Vandals have cut sections of the fence several times to gain access to the buildings.

“Once again we face the cost of repairs and deal with the very painful reality that people are desecrating the site,” said Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Hadden.

The Saginaw Chippewa tribe is aware of several social media posts from people who trespassed on the site. Leaders say some of the trespassers thought they were ghost hunting at an ancient Indian burial ground or looking for something fun to do.

The tribe called the repeated trespassing “hurtful” and is calling on everyone to stop entering the property unlawfully.

Anyone caught trespassing on the school property, including simply walking around on the grounds, could face a penalty. When Saginaw Chippewa tribal police issue trespassing citations, suspects have to answer to U.S. District Court in Bay City because the buildings are federal property.

The tribe hosts an annual celebration on the school grounds in early June to mark the date when it closed and honor the families who suffered from its effects. The Honoring, Healing and Remembering celebration is scheduled for June 4 this summer.

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