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: http://www.malkimuseum.org/index.html