182 Years Ago Today, Shawnee Indian Mission Manual Labor School Opened

Established on October 28, 1839, the Shawnee Indian Mission Manual Labor School is one of North America’s earliest operating residential schools. Many Shawnee children resided at the mission, and questions remain as to whether there are Shawnee children buried on the site’s grounds, located in present-day Fairway, Kansas.

Now called the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site, the mission’s grounds and its remaining buildings are currently operated by the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office, managed by the City of Fairway and supported by a private nonprofit foundation comprising local individuals.

Tribal leadership and the Shawnee Tribe Cultural and Historic Preservation Committee (STCHPC) have begun to build a collaborative relationship with the City of Fairway and others to protect this site and take steps to unwind the history of Shawnee children there, dating back almost two centuries.

“The Shawnee Indian Boarding School represents a personal connection for me, having family members that attended the school,” says STCHPC Chairman Garet Couch, “It’s a point of inspiration knowing what those individuals went through, surviving an attempted cultural genocide. Through fortitude and determination, they not only maintained our culture through adversity, but they were also able to pass it on to us today. I would encourage all saawanooki* that had family that attended the boarding school say their name today on this anniversary of the school so that they are not lost to history and to inspire all of us to uphold our responsibility to our ancestors.”

Last month, Chief Ben Barnes gathered with STCHPC members, Shawnee citizens and members of the public at the mission to commemorate Orange Shirt Day in memory of the children lost to federal and church-run Indian boarding schools and to honor those who survived.

“My own family member, David Dushane, was forced to attend and habitually escaped and fled back home from the harsh conditions at the boarding school,” says Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes, “The legacy of residential schools flows through all of us, and today, We Remember.”

Shawnee leadership encourages citizens to contact their U.S. congresspersons to urge them to support the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policy Act.

If you or a loved one have been affected by the historical trauma of Indian boarding schools, please reach out to someone. Click here for a list of resources from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.

WATCH a video short about the Shawnee Indian Mission here


*Shawnee people