Tribal flags hang in honor of former Indian School students | TheFencePost.com

Tribal flags hang in honor of former Indian School students

Barbara Ann Dush
Fullerton, Neb.

"The school kids are amazed when they look at this," retired teacher Helen Schweizer of Columbus said of the map she made. "When I did this, it was fun."

The U.S. Indian School in Genoa, Neb., is more than a keeper of history.

Service volunteers continually strive to renew the respect its former students deserve.

When the school was approaching its 125th anniversary in 2009, volunteer Helen Schweizer came up with an idea to display the student’s tribal flags.

“We wanted something that would represent the tribes who were here, and the flag seemed to be the most likely item to represent them,” Helen said. “So we put our heads together and came up with a letter. I had the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) directory so we had all the addresses.”

The letter stressed that the Genoa U.S. Indian Industrial School is a significant part of Nebraska history, as well as that of the United States. It was the fourth of 24 such institutions in the U.S., and the only one in Nebraska. It was based on a military model with an emphasis on vocational training and assimilation into white society.

The school opened in 1884 with 74 students in one building on 320 acres. When it closed 50 years later, the campus had grown to 30 buildings on 640 acres. The peak enrollment was 599, with students ranging in age from six to 22, and representing as many as 15 to 20 tribes in any one year.

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At present 14 of the Indian School buildings, smoke stack and stile exist on the original sites. They are privately owned with the exception of the manual training building, which is the building the volunteers wanted to display the flags in.

ALTHOUGH HELEN had the tribal addresses, getting the letters into the right hands presented the toughest challenge.

“We knew about the tribes that were here from records,” Helen said. “Each of these tribes in some cases have several reservations and every reservation has a different flag. There’s no flag that’s common to the tribe. Being independent groups, they each have their own government.”

The directory was several years old. “The addresses were all right, but the personnel listed wasn’t necessarily right. So I called the reservations and in many cases they did not know a thing about the letter, so this meant another letter went out, and in some cases a third letter went out.”

Helen wanted the project completed by Memorial Day, so the letters went out in December 2008. However, “the flags did not descend upon us in great quantity,” she laughed, “and in some cases, I talked to more than one person until I finally connected with somebody.”

Helen’s persistence and perseverance paid off. By Memorial Day, the school had most of the 36 flags now on display, and three on loan.

NATIVE AMERICAN Indians have traditionally been people without flags, relying upon art, totems and costume to distinguish themselves.

In the last 50 years, however, that tradition has been changing. Many of the nearly 600 recognized and unrecognized Indian tribes found within the United States are without flags, but an increasing number of tribes have started using the flags as a form of symbolism. More Indian communities now have flags than don’t. The adoption of flags by tribes can be seen in some instances as a tool to instill pride in the minds and hearts of the people.

The flags hanging at the Indian School in Genoa represent tribes from Maine to California. “There weren’t very many people that attended from Maine, but never the less we do have the flag. The one who attended from California is from the Hoopa (tribe). The flags are only from tribes that were here at school, and there may be others because our records are not complete.”

There were tribes that did not contribute a flag because they could not afford to. “We have some that were financially unable to give us a flag. A flag will run a minimum of $75, and they said we cannot afford to do that. One of the tribes I contacted said we can hardly afford to feed our people, so we have emblems. We have ten emblems. Essentially what they did was take the emblem that was on the flag and send it to us.”

BY THE TIME the 2009 Indian School’s annual reunion arrived, the majority of the flags were hung up for display.

“The people that came expressed their surprise when they saw them. We had a PowerPoint presentation for the highlight of our program,” volunteer Sandra Swantek said. “We took pictures of all the flags and Nancy Carlson and her daughters researched the symbols and put all that information together.

“However, we don’t know how many years the flags are going to be here. The sunshine coming through the windows is what is bothering us because the flags do fade. We’ve had to pull the shades.”

Most of the donated flags are 3′ x 5′, and some are as large as 6′ x 8′.

Volunteers are making an effort to get school children to the Indian School to view the flags. Children from Albion, Creston and York have been the most recent visitors, and adult tours are becoming more frequent. “I just had three calls come in one day for a tour,” Sandra said. “We don’t charge admission. We have grant money for the reunion. All the rest is operated on donations.”

For Helen and Sandra, the excitement of the flag project was evident even before the reunion.

“It was pretty cool after we got into it. I don’t know how you’d pick out a favorite. They’re certainly artistic,” Sandra said. “There are not very many places in the United States where you would see this many tribal flags. We learned that to donate a flag to someone was one of the tribe’s highest honor.”

“And it’s a high honor for us to receive them,” Helen added.

Museum visits may be made during regularly scheduled hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day or by scheduling a tour at any time. During the 2008 tourist season, visitors came from 83 Nebraska towns and cities, 28 states, Mexico, Germany and Australia. For a tour or visit, call Sandra Swantek at (402) 993-6636.

The U.S. Indian School in Genoa, Neb., is more than a keeper of history.

Service volunteers continually strive to renew the respect its former students deserve.

When the school was approaching its 125th anniversary in 2009, volunteer Helen Schweizer came up with an idea to display the student’s tribal flags.

“We wanted something that would represent the tribes who were here, and the flag seemed to be the most likely item to represent them,” Helen said. “So we put our heads together and came up with a letter. I had the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) directory so we had all the addresses.”

The letter stressed that the Genoa U.S. Indian Industrial School is a significant part of Nebraska history, as well as that of the United States. It was the fourth of 24 such institutions in the U.S., and the only one in Nebraska. It was based on a military model with an emphasis on vocational training and assimilation into white society.

The school opened in 1884 with 74 students in one building on 320 acres. When it closed 50 years later, the campus had grown to 30 buildings on 640 acres. The peak enrollment was 599, with students ranging in age from six to 22, and representing as many as 15 to 20 tribes in any one year.

At present 14 of the Indian School buildings, smoke stack and stile exist on the original sites. They are privately owned with the exception of the manual training building, which is the building the volunteers wanted to display the flags in.

ALTHOUGH HELEN had the tribal addresses, getting the letters into the right hands presented the toughest challenge.

“We knew about the tribes that were here from records,” Helen said. “Each of these tribes in some cases have several reservations and every reservation has a different flag. There’s no flag that’s common to the tribe. Being independent groups, they each have their own government.”

The directory was several years old. “The addresses were all right, but the personnel listed wasn’t necessarily right. So I called the reservations and in many cases they did not know a thing about the letter, so this meant another letter went out, and in some cases a third letter went out.”

Helen wanted the project completed by Memorial Day, so the letters went out in December 2008. However, “the flags did not descend upon us in great quantity,” she laughed, “and in some cases, I talked to more than one person until I finally connected with somebody.”

Helen’s persistence and perseverance paid off. By Memorial Day, the school had most of the 36 flags now on display, and three on loan.

NATIVE AMERICAN Indians have traditionally been people without flags, relying upon art, totems and costume to distinguish themselves.

In the last 50 years, however, that tradition has been changing. Many of the nearly 600 recognized and unrecognized Indian tribes found within the United States are without flags, but an increasing number of tribes have started using the flags as a form of symbolism. More Indian communities now have flags than don’t. The adoption of flags by tribes can be seen in some instances as a tool to instill pride in the minds and hearts of the people.

The flags hanging at the Indian School in Genoa represent tribes from Maine to California. “There weren’t very many people that attended from Maine, but never the less we do have the flag. The one who attended from California is from the Hoopa (tribe). The flags are only from tribes that were here at school, and there may be others because our records are not complete.”

There were tribes that did not contribute a flag because they could not afford to. “We have some that were financially unable to give us a flag. A flag will run a minimum of $75, and they said we cannot afford to do that. One of the tribes I contacted said we can hardly afford to feed our people, so we have emblems. We have ten emblems. Essentially what they did was take the emblem that was on the flag and send it to us.”

BY THE TIME the 2009 Indian School’s annual reunion arrived, the majority of the flags were hung up for display.

“The people that came expressed their surprise when they saw them. We had a PowerPoint presentation for the highlight of our program,” volunteer Sandra Swantek said. “We took pictures of all the flags and Nancy Carlson and her daughters researched the symbols and put all that information together.

“However, we don’t know how many years the flags are going to be here. The sunshine coming through the windows is what is bothering us because the flags do fade. We’ve had to pull the shades.”

Most of the donated flags are 3′ x 5′, and some are as large as 6′ x 8′.

Volunteers are making an effort to get school children to the Indian School to view the flags. Children from Albion, Creston and York have been the most recent visitors, and adult tours are becoming more frequent. “I just had three calls come in one day for a tour,” Sandra said. “We don’t charge admission. We have grant money for the reunion. All the rest is operated on donations.”

For Helen and Sandra, the excitement of the flag project was evident even before the reunion.

“It was pretty cool after we got into it. I don’t know how you’d pick out a favorite. They’re certainly artistic,” Sandra said. “There are not very many places in the United States where you would see this many tribal flags. We learned that to donate a flag to someone was one of the tribe’s highest honor.”

“And it’s a high honor for us to receive them,” Helen added.

Museum visits may be made during regularly scheduled hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day or by scheduling a tour at any time. During the 2008 tourist season, visitors came from 83 Nebraska towns and cities, 28 states, Mexico, Germany and Australia. For a tour or visit, call Sandra Swantek at (402) 993-6636.

The U.S. Indian School in Genoa, Neb., is more than a keeper of history.

Service volunteers continually strive to renew the respect its former students deserve.

When the school was approaching its 125th anniversary in 2009, volunteer Helen Schweizer came up with an idea to display the student’s tribal flags.

“We wanted something that would represent the tribes who were here, and the flag seemed to be the most likely item to represent them,” Helen said. “So we put our heads together and came up with a letter. I had the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) directory so we had all the addresses.”

The letter stressed that the Genoa U.S. Indian Industrial School is a significant part of Nebraska history, as well as that of the United States. It was the fourth of 24 such institutions in the U.S., and the only one in Nebraska. It was based on a military model with an emphasis on vocational training and assimilation into white society.

The school opened in 1884 with 74 students in one building on 320 acres. When it closed 50 years later, the campus had grown to 30 buildings on 640 acres. The peak enrollment was 599, with students ranging in age from six to 22, and representing as many as 15 to 20 tribes in any one year.

At present 14 of the Indian School buildings, smoke stack and stile exist on the original sites. They are privately owned with the exception of the manual training building, which is the building the volunteers wanted to display the flags in.

ALTHOUGH HELEN had the tribal addresses, getting the letters into the right hands presented the toughest challenge.

“We knew about the tribes that were here from records,” Helen said. “Each of these tribes in some cases have several reservations and every reservation has a different flag. There’s no flag that’s common to the tribe. Being independent groups, they each have their own government.”

The directory was several years old. “The addresses were all right, but the personnel listed wasn’t necessarily right. So I called the reservations and in many cases they did not know a thing about the letter, so this meant another letter went out, and in some cases a third letter went out.”

Helen wanted the project completed by Memorial Day, so the letters went out in December 2008. However, “the flags did not descend upon us in great quantity,” she laughed, “and in some cases, I talked to more than one person until I finally connected with somebody.”

Helen’s persistence and perseverance paid off. By Memorial Day, the school had most of the 36 flags now on display, and three on loan.

NATIVE AMERICAN Indians have traditionally been people without flags, relying upon art, totems and costume to distinguish themselves.

In the last 50 years, however, that tradition has been changing. Many of the nearly 600 recognized and unrecognized Indian tribes found within the United States are without flags, but an increasing number of tribes have started using the flags as a form of symbolism. More Indian communities now have flags than don’t. The adoption of flags by tribes can be seen in some instances as a tool to instill pride in the minds and hearts of the people.

The flags hanging at the Indian School in Genoa represent tribes from Maine to California. “There weren’t very many people that attended from Maine, but never the less we do have the flag. The one who attended from California is from the Hoopa (tribe). The flags are only from tribes that were here at school, and there may be others because our records are not complete.”

There were tribes that did not contribute a flag because they could not afford to. “We have some that were financially unable to give us a flag. A flag will run a minimum of $75, and they said we cannot afford to do that. One of the tribes I contacted said we can hardly afford to feed our people, so we have emblems. We have ten emblems. Essentially what they did was take the emblem that was on the flag and send it to us.”

BY THE TIME the 2009 Indian School’s annual reunion arrived, the majority of the flags were hung up for display.

“The people that came expressed their surprise when they saw them. We had a PowerPoint presentation for the highlight of our program,” volunteer Sandra Swantek said. “We took pictures of all the flags and Nancy Carlson and her daughters researched the symbols and put all that information together.

“However, we don’t know how many years the flags are going to be here. The sunshine coming through the windows is what is bothering us because the flags do fade. We’ve had to pull the shades.”

Most of the donated flags are 3′ x 5′, and some are as large as 6′ x 8′.

Volunteers are making an effort to get school children to the Indian School to view the flags. Children from Albion, Creston and York have been the most recent visitors, and adult tours are becoming more frequent. “I just had three calls come in one day for a tour,” Sandra said. “We don’t charge admission. We have grant money for the reunion. All the rest is operated on donations.”

For Helen and Sandra, the excitement of the flag project was evident even before the reunion.

“It was pretty cool after we got into it. I don’t know how you’d pick out a favorite. They’re certainly artistic,” Sandra said. “There are not very many places in the United States where you would see this many tribal flags. We learned that to donate a flag to someone was one of the tribe’s highest honor.”

“And it’s a high honor for us to receive them,” Helen added.

Museum visits may be made during regularly scheduled hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day or by scheduling a tour at any time. During the 2008 tourist season, visitors came from 83 Nebraska towns and cities, 28 states, Mexico, Germany and Australia. For a tour or visit, call Sandra Swantek at (402) 993-6636.