Author Archives: Ujin Kim

Lost But Never Forgotten: The Ghost of St. Boniface Indian School

Lost but Never Forgotten: The Ghost of  St. Boniface Indian School

            You are going to laugh at me because this is super lame, but my dad made me go to it. It was junior year of high school and my dad’s friend who is a professor at University of San Diego for American Studies was hosting a retreat at the Morongo Indian Reservation in Banning, California. I have like 1/1,000,000 percent Native American from my dad’s side, but he said this was an enlightening experience to learn more about who I am…blah blah blah! He went to the casino that week when my sister and I were at the retreat, so I think that was his real reason. However, I never even knew there was a place called Banning. The retreat was a four-day trip, in which we visited the Malki Museum and then camped out at the St. Boniface Indian School. The first day we were at some harvest event with the Malki Museum [called Fall Gathering] and then the last night we camped out at the former grounds of St. Boniface Indian School.

            It was fun especially because I got to interact with a college professor as a junior and USD was a school I was looking into. However, my favorite part of the retreat was the last night when we were camping. After a couple days of stereotypical activities such as weaving baskets and watching a dance performance at the museum, it was a bit weird to go to a quiet, abandoned school. The professor was telling us that the school was a boarding school for Native Americans during the early 20th century when Americans were trying to civilize the indigenous Native Americans. I was taking AP US History that year, so I did learn some practices that were used against the Native Americans. We were gathered around a campfire before going to bed and one of the graduate students told everyone a ghost story that is linked to the St. Boniface Indian School.  The story begins…

            There was a boy from the neighboring Morongo reservation who was sent to the boarding school here at the age of 12 and had to leave his mother and aunt who were the only members of his family that he knew of. Coming from a traditional family, he did not know any English and did not wear any western clothing. The first few months he attended the school, he was abused and badgered by the Catholic missionaries and instructors. If he ever spoke his native tongue, he would have his mouth washed with soap and he had his hair cut off. If he was caught ever practicing anything related to his native culture, he was beaten and one of the punishments was to stay in a cubby with a dunce hat on at the back of a classroom. One day the instructor in charge of his punishment forgot to open the crack for oxygen and the boy died from suffocation. The supervision changed after this incident, but people say that if you are quiet enough… you can hear a young boy talking in a lost language, yelling to go home to his family.

            This was my favorite story that I collected because I am currently enrolled in a Latin American culture course and we just discussed Indian boarding schools and the period of Americanization. I asked Leanne, “How did this change your outlook on your heritage or this issue?” Leanne said, “I always considered my Native American roots to be such a small part of who I am and joked about how it was a way for me to get into college! But that ghost story is something that sticks with me even now.”  The context of the story was with a campfire on abandoned camp grounds near a school with roasted corn in the fire, which is the picture perfect Hollywood image that we all have seen or can concur an image of… but it does not make the story any less authentic.

The retreat Leanne attended was for educational purposes and the activities at the Malki Museum were culturally enriching, but this ghost story was the keystone of her experience. It functions not only as a story to conserve the history of a people who were for the most part eradicated, but as a link an individual can connect to with his or her past, present, and future. This simple story of a young anonymous boy’s death speaks so many words as it gives a face to the injustice that was forced upon a group of humans and America is still in a period of healing.  One of the things that I found the most interesting was how the voice of the young boy is still crying out in his native tongue (which is now lost as many aspects of indigenous cultures due to a massive history of cultural eradication) to be able to go home. It is oddly heartwarming, but gives me goosebumps

Malki Museum website:

In with the Old, Out with the New

In with the Old, Out with the New

I’ve lived in Riverside, CA for most of my life. However, I have a lot of family still in China. My father’s side of the family lives in Hefei in the Anhui region of China. My family is pretty traditional and was poor until the recent advancements in China’s economy. Hefei is now industrial, but when my dad was our age, the town was more of a village. The main family house is still located in the former rural area on a hill with the closest house a good distance away because it is not in the heart of the capital with a lot of people and newer homes. After my grandfather (head of the family) passed away in the summer of 2002, my uncle who was left the will of the house, decided to renovate the family home by adding two more floors below the house. The house already was two stories, but the uncle made arrangements for another floor for guests/ other family members and a game/leisure room at the very basement of the house. My dad was opposed to the change and told my uncle to just buy a new home rather than change the one they grew up in.

The renovations took 4-5 years and everything was good…or so everyone thought. My dad went back home every two years for the anniversary of grandfather’s death and he always comes back with crazy stories that I never really believed. Ever since the renovations, weird things happen in game/leisure room or the fourth floor of the house. Last time, my uncle brought a new arcade machine for the room, but randomly it would turn off and on or the controls would be going backward. The pool table has a big dark stain on it that suddenly appeared and does not wash out. Dad always joked that it was grandpa mad at uncle for changing things. However, uncle told me that the weird things stopped last winter when my dad passed away.

I found it interesting that common themes we discussed in class were demonstrated in a story that I happened to collect from a friend such as the emphasis on ancestral spirits in Asia cultures, the number 4, and the idea of disturbing the peace. In Asian cultures, the presence of ancestral ghosts is more common like China. Anhui is a recently developed industrial city; therefore, the old values and the new are at play in the modern society. Amy’s family home is located in a fairly older area of town in a rapidly developing capital; therefore, the Anhui province is in liminal state.  However, the classic idea of “let sleeping dogs lie” by not making changes that will upset anyone stands true (and on the fourth floor as well). Firstly, the number four is avoided as Western cultures avoid the number 13 because the direct translation is very similar to the English word “death.” It is still not proven that the weird occurrences were caused by the grandfather’s spirit, but how the Gong family considers that to be a valid reason demonstrates not only the beliefs of the Gong family, but can represent the beliefs of a larger people in China who believe in this “other world.” It serves as a justification that even today with all our technology and electronic toys, we have yet to discover an answer to this mystery. What I find more interesting is that it does not matter if we have the answer or not, but once we make a connection between a story and our personal lives, then the story becomes just as valid as any chemical process or theorem.

This is a personal story that Amy shared with me about something she encountered as a “ghostly” experience with her family. At first, she was telling me how this experience is not “technically” a ghost tale, but Amy is fairly superstitious and believed things were happening for a reason. Amy has never visited the room itself and the fact that she lives in California may have created a thought that this story was not too “close to home.” However, after her father’s passing, this story held a whole new meaning for her. The idea that the disturbances ended with her father’s passing or better yet the joining of father and son brought peace to the household serves as a comfort for the living such as Amy who still thinks of her father and holds him dear to her heart during this period of healing. Ghost stories serve a multitude of functions, but this specific form of storytelling has the effect of personalizing an event, unlike any historical fact or scientific explanation.

Information on Anhui, China: