Saturday Soapbox: A Closer Look at the Fort Simcoe Residential School | Opinion
Students and eyewitnesses who lived at the Fort Simcoe school between 1860 and 1920 told a somewhat different story than that of the “unsanitary conditions”, “degradation” and “atrocities” alleged by the editorial board of the YH-R on October 9.
Many students have thrived there and come out of school healthy and intelligent while keeping their native language skills intact and retaining their traditional religious values for the rest of their lives. As adults, former students proudly represented their indigenous culture while vigorously advocating for tribal rights using English skills learned in the classroom.
Some examples included George Waters, Tecumseh Yahatowit, Thomas K. Yallup, Louis Mann, George Olney, Dan Boone, William Charley, Alex and Alba Shawaway, Kiutus Jim, Watson Totus, Celia Yumpty Totus, and Kate Tahchinch Williams.
Likewise, dozens of hard-working teachers and school staff have dedicated their lives to meeting the educational, nutritional and emotional needs of children who were sung at night by staff members before school time. to sleep. When school ended in June, the children went home to their families and returned in October. Employees and neighbors collected donations to buy Christmas gifts and toys for the children because federal funds were not allowed to be spent on holiday gifts. (Yakima Herald, December 31, 1891.) If a child died, he or she would go home with his family by tradition. When a soldier died at Fort Simcoe, he was taken to The Dalles or Portland, Oregon, or sent home.
Major Robert Garnett’s wife and son died at Fort Simcoe in 1858 and were brought back to New York State. These are some of the reasons why there is no cemetery at Fort Simcoe.
Were there bad employees? Two were identified in the YH-R article published on October 2. School superintendent Samuel Motzer was investigated by American inspectors and fired after 15 weeks of employment in 1889. Former Civil War General RH Milroy’s contract did not not renewed in 1885 partly due to callous, culturally degrading remarks made by him. The remaining 57 years at the school operated under more qualified supervision.
Medical reports from staff doctors confirmed that the schoolchildren were in better health than those living in winter camps.
Students at the school received smallpox vaccinations, regular nutritious meals, warm clothing, shelter, and a balanced regime of domestic and agricultural chores with classroom study.
If there was any healing left to be done in 1955, it may have been appeased when (then adult) former students held a Fort Simcoe school reunion at Satus Longhouse with music, singing and dancing while inviting a special guest, Don M. Carr, former head of the boarding school during its last nine years of operation. (Republic of Yakima, December 15, 1955.)
The U.S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs published annual reports during the internship years, and these are available in the Yakima Valley Libraries’ Northwest Reading Room and in the National Libraries’ Digital Collection. University of Washington, “Yakama Agency Annual Report.”
Jo N. Miles is an award-winning history scholar and author based in Yakima.