SIDNEY — Oran Baumeister, of Richmond, Indiana, was not expecting to speak about his childhood while attending the 10th annual Honoring Our Veterans and First Responders Pow Wow at the Shelby County Fairgrounds on Sunday, Aug. 22.
A Pow Wow organizer believed Baumeister had a story that people needed to hear. He convinced Baumeister to talk about what it was like to grow up in an Indian boarding school.
Shaking with emotion and sometimes on the verge of tears, Baumeister imparted how he was taken from his family in 1971 at the age of 6. At the time Baumeister’s family lived in the small town of McLaughlin, South Dakota, on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Baumeister was taken to St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, located 200 miles to the south. He said at the time his parents were told that if they didn’t give up their children they would be arrested, and the kids would be taken anyway.
According to Baumeister on the day after arriving at the boarding school the kids were lined up and told they could no longer speak their native language. The boarding school was run by Catholic nuns, brothers and priests.
“It was all about going to church. Asking for forgiveness for being born a native.” said Baumeister. According to Baumeister one priest told him that it doesn’t matter how hard you work at it you’re not going to heaven because you were born native. The best you can hope for is Purgatory.
Baumeister said most of the staff were abusive. Once when Baumeister ran away from the boarding school he was found by local law enforcement who handcuffed him, threw him into the trunk and drove him back to the boarding school. After he arrived Baumeister said he was beaten so badly he needed to spend 8 days recovering in the boarding school’s on site infirmary.
From 1971-78 Baumeister was made to attend Mass every day. He lived in a dormitory that was divided into two sections. One section was for younger Native American children and the other for older ones.
In 1978 Baumeister walked out of St. Joseph’s Indian School but he says the abuses he was subjected to and witnessed continue to haunt him. Baumeister is now married and is successfully employed despite what he was subjected to at the Indian boarding school as a child.