Watercolor of an Indian Boarding School blog

Art, the Mt. Pleasant Center, and the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School
Part II

The combined properties of the former Mt. Pleasant Center and the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School total 313 acres of mature hardwoods, fields, and a park-like campus.  On the east-end are the old buildings of the Indian Boarding School, and the west-end there is a Native American cemetery. In the middle was the Mt. Pleasant Center, where I worked (Above watercolor of the boarding school done from my office after work). The Center buildings are razed now, and the boarding school buildings are deteriorating.  

My job at the Center could be stressful, but having access to the the boarding school to document through painting and photography was my way of stress management and to contemplate the history of this property and how it affected me.

Indian boarding school in setting sun
Photo of one of the boarding school buildings taken April 2020

Background

The Indian Boarding Schools across North America tried to, “Kill the Indian, save the man” according the founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania. Attempted genocide, assimilation, abuse and neglect were prevalent at the schools.. Not all the stories are dismal, however. During the early 2000s, I listened to an elder who was standing by the above building describe the place fondly. I have read similar accounts from former students; the schools provided education, vocational training, food, clothing, and shelter for children that may have been starving on the reservation. See the links at the end of this blog for more information about the history of the Mt. Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School and what is happening today.

View of Boarding School
the building on the right is the gymnasium, the only structure from the boarding school still in use when I worked at the Center.

The Federal government turned over the boarding school to the State of Michigan in 1934 under the Comstock Agreement. In return Michigan agreed to provide the educational needs of Michigan Native Americans. This is the basis of the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver, which paid for my college tuition, thus giving me the degree needed to work as a case manager on the former school grounds. 

colorful sunset painting with a weeping willow
Weeping Willow Sunset

Family Connections to the School

Around 2003 My mother and Uncle Matt Whetung drove down from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community to visit. My Uncle said, “I want to see the boarding school where Amos and Sarah went”. I was shocked to find out that my eldest aunt and uncle went to this school. We drove slowly around the grounds while I pointed out what some of the buildings were used for. Matt took it all in but did not say a word. For more about uncle Matt see my blog “Walking the Grade.” 

Afterwards, I did find a few news items in the CMU digitized Archives of the L’Anse Sentinel newspaper about my relatives a the school.  This community announcement is from September 10th, 1931 naming local Native children going to the boarding school including my aunt Sarah and uncle Amos:

black and white photo of two Native people
My aunt Sarah (Whetung) Shalifoe and uncle Amos Whetung

The Indian Cemetery

Located on the west side of the property on Bamber Road, this cemetery appears to be the only property open to the general public right now.

Grandmother Pine Overlooking the Ancestors

Additional Photos of the Boarding School

Conclusion

My current office is literally across the street from the boarding school, but the grounds are closed to the public so no more drawing or painting there in the foreseeable future. I had witnessed many changes when I worked at the Center; conditions were much better compared to a few generations back.   

I wonder what life was like for my aunt and uncle who went to the boarding school? Did the conditions improve in the thirties compared to when the boarding school opened in the late nineteenth century? There are still some stories that need to be told-and I know there are still many questions. 

Links

Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, the current land owners, and their website about the Mt. Pleasant Indian industrial Boarding School 

-Central Michigan University digitized archives of the L’Anse Sentinel: 

-An article I just found at Second Wave Media

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *