THE STORY OF THE
CANTON ASYLUM FOR INSANE INDIANS
VANISHED IN HIAWATHA
Begun as a pork-barrel project by the federal government in the early 1900s, the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians quickly became a dumping ground for inconvenient Indians. The federal institution in Canton, South Dakota, deprived many Native patients of their freedom without genuine cause, often requiring only the signature of a reservation agent. Only nine Native patients in the asylum’s history were committed by court order. Without interpreters, mental evaluations, or therapeutic programs, few patients recovered.
Vanished in Hiawatha is the harrowing tale of the mistreatment of Native American patients at a notorious insane asylum whose history helps us to understand the broader mistreatment of Native peoples under forced federal assimilation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.