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Know the West

Who does the federal boarding schools investigation leave out?

Hastiin Tadidiin was an early victim of the boarding school system. But his story is not yet part of the federal investigation.

Hastiin Tadidiin (Diné) was murdered in the winter of 1916. Federal agents found him inside his hogan, about 10 miles northeast of Kaibeto, Navajo Nation, Arizona, when they came to round up his children and forcibly transport them to a nearby federally funded boarding school.

His family estimates that he was in his 70s when he was shot with at least 10 bullets. Records and family history reveal that he died trying to protect two of his children, at least one of whom, a daughter, was taken away after his death and placed in boarding school.

 

According to reports from both family and historical records, Walter Runke, the Indian agent for Tuba City, issued the order to kill Tadidiin, whose name translates to Corn Pollen Man. Before becoming the agent for what is now known as the Western Navajo Agency, Runke served as a disciplinarian at the Tuba City Boarding School. He also worked as the administrator for the Panguitch Boarding School in southern Utah, which operated between 1904 and 1909. The Panguitch school served Paiute children, and at least 12 Paiute children are believed to be buried somewhere on the grounds. Runke relied on aggressive recruitment tactics, including armed threats, to coerce Paiute and Diné children to attend his schools. 

The story of Corn Pollen Man is just one of many that have been linked to boarding schools – another tragic chapter in the almost 200-year-old history of the United States displacing Indigenous families and removing children from their homes. Yet families say that his story and others like it are still missing from official accounts of boarding schools’ harm, and that they need to be included in the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, the Interior Department’s ongoing investigation of the schools.

An Arizona Republic newspaper clipping article stating the Flagstaff, Arizona Chamber of Commerce's statement in defense of Walter Runke.
Arizona Republic

Through a memorandum of understanding, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABSHC) has partnered with the Interior in order to identify and review the impacts of the federally funded boarding schools that operated between 1819 and 1969 across the U.S. The agency is already investigating 408 boarding schools, including both the Tuba City and Panguitch boarding schools.

But according to the Healing Coalition, the investigation needs to expand its scope to include stories like Tadidiin’s along with the history of the other institutions that participated in the children’s removal. Deborah Parker (Tulalip Tribes), chief executive director for the Healing Coalition, says that it has identified another 89 boarding school institutions, ranging from Christian schools to hospitals, sanatoriums and orphanages, and that it intends to release the list to the public. Parker hopes the investigation will bring more stories like Tadidiin’s to light and allow families to receive long-overdue support so that they can move forward with their lives.

“Our truth-telling is so necessary. For us to heal, we have to hear those stories,” she said. “We have to know what happened to our relatives — what happened to create such sadness within our communities, and yet resilience. We have amazing resilience.”

“Our truth-telling is so necessary. For us to heal, we have to hear those stories.” 

Historical accounts and previous reporting on boarding schools had acknowledged the death of “Taddy Tin.” But the stories his family told of him and the impact his life and death had on his descendants are still left out of the official reckoning around boarding schools.

Diné leaders are calling for support for Indigenous communities as they reckon with the toll the boarding schools took on their kin. Navajo Nation Council Delegate Carl Slater, who was in the consultation meetings with the Interior Department before the federal report became public last spring, says survivors need resources, particularly when they are telling their stories publicly for the first time. 

“You just can’t remove the bandage when you have not done enough to actually help heal the person and the people,” Slater said. “The (federal) report is just a report without action.” 

Tadidiin’s descendants, Rita Tadytin-Tsingine and Logan Tsingine, have found healing in their efforts to reclaim the story of their ancestor’s life and the values he embodied. Hastiin Tadidiin was also known by other names and spellings, including Tadidiin, Hastiin Tádídínii, Taddy Tin, Tadytin or Taddytin. Those many names have muddied the waters, long preventing his family from understanding that their ancestor was a victim of the U.S. boarding school program. The uncertainty has also kept boarding school investigators and journalists from including critical context on Tadidiin’s resistance in their reports.

Taadidiin Tours CEO Rita Tsinigine photographed at Antelope Canyon X in November.
Deidra Peaches / High Country News

In history books and local media, Hastiin Tadidiin was often portrayed as a villain. The Coconino Sun reported him as being a “renegade Indian” in a 1916 news clipping. In the early 1900s, newspapers sought to frame Runke as innocent in Tadidiin’s death. Ultimately, Runke was eventually acquitted by an all-white jury, and went on to serve as a state senator in Arizona.

But the Tadytin family, which are descendants by three and four generations today, say that Hastiin Tadidiin was a hero, who stood his ground against American imperialism in the 1860s for the Diné people.

Nearly 54 years before his death, Hastiin Tadidiin, along with other Diné warriors and their bands, evaded capture and escaped the Long Walk of 1864-’65 — Hwéeldi in Diné — a dark period in Diné history when the U.S. Army, led by James Carleton and Kit Carson, forced about 10,000 Diné people at gunpoint to leave their homelands and trek several hundred miles to Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico. Some Diné hid in the nearby slot canyons of what is now known as northern Arizona and southern Utah, including Arizona’s famous Antelope Canyon.

Detail from an October 1916 article in The Coconino Sun article portraying Hastiin Tadidiin as "dangerous."
The Coconino Sun

“When we hear and learn and read of his involvement that started with the resistance going on with the Long Walk and hiding in the local area, in the slot canyons, it gives us a sense of where we come from,” said Logan Tsingine, one of Tadidiin’s great-great-grandsons. “The strength we have in just the resiliency, to be able to be tied to the land, and still be here.”

From Bears Ears to Naatsis’áán (Navajo Mountain) to the lands north of the Colorado River, these uncaptured Diné people hid from the American forces and performed ceremonies for those who were being held as prisoners at the internment camp in New Mexico. Four years later, the Navajo Treaty of 1868 was negotiated and signed between Diné leaders and American forces. Thousands of Diné prisoners were finally able to return to their current homelands.

For the Diné people, who now total about 400,000 citizens, the story is a reminder that they were never fully conquered. Some claim that the Navajo Treaty of 1868 was null and void because not all Diné endured Hwéeldi. It is said, for example, that Hastiin Tadidiin remained free until his death in 1916.

“When we hear and learn and read of his involvement that started with the resistance going on with the Long Walk and hiding in the local area, in the slot canyons, it gives us a sense of where we come from.”

“They killed him for not putting his daughter in the school,” Dale Tadytin Sr., Hastiin Tadidiin’s late grandson, said in a video clip Tsingine collected. “The government killed him. I think about three or four guys came. Two of them came inside the hogan, and they just started shooting.”

Official accounts always portrayed Tadidiin as a troublemaker, but the family has evidence that he spent the years after the Long Walk continuing to fight for Diné sovereignty and lands. 

“We found that there were non-Natives on Navajo land disturbing burial sites and things like that, and that’s when he took action and was protecting what we consider sacred,” Tsingine said. “It is nice to know that there is also our side of the story. What they did is they came in, they took our kids and tried to almost erase what we were doing, where they tried to take our culture and language.”

In the book Navajo Trader, Gladwell Richardson wrote that Runke sent three white men – Ashley Wilson, Ed Nash and David Robinson – to kill Hastiin Tadidiin. Wilson, who was the chief of police, is the one who shot him dead, Richardson wrote.

“A furious outcry was raised when Taddytin had been murdered on orders of the Indian agent,” Richardson said. The federal government did prosecute Runke for his involvement in Tadidiin’s death, but he was later acquitted by an all-white jury.

An October 1916 newspaper clipping from The Coconino Sun.
The Coconino Sun

Wilson, who Richardson wrote was charged with murder, served in the Army during World War I while his trial was still pending and was killed in action in France in 1918.

To this day, the family describes Corn Pollen Man as a protector who fought against the federal, state and church assimilation policies. They keep his memory alive; Rita Tadytin-Tsingine likes to say that Tadidiin, her great-great naali (paternal grandfather), was a big man with broad shoulders at least four feet wide.

“I could see it in my kids, my nieces, and nephews. We have some big kids,” Tadytin-Tsingine said, who attended the Kaibeto Boarding School as a young girl. “And now I always say that it comes from Hastiin Tadidiin.”

She and her relatives named their tourism company after him: Taadidiin Tours. The spelling, yet another variation of Tadidiin’s name, comes from Diné language instructors at Diné College in Tsaile, Navajo Nation, Arizona. With Tadytin-Tsingine as the chief executive officer, Taadidiin Tours offers guided tours to the iconic Antelope Canyon that include opportunities to learn more about the family’s connection to the land and their ancestral resistance to American colonization. Still, she has yet to visit the site of the hogan where her ancestor was killed.

Deidra Peaches / High Country News

Tadytin-Tsingine hopes the increased scrutiny of boarding schools in the region will unearth more information concerning the losses her family suffered. She said she often wonders about the daughter who was taken to boarding school, what happened to her at the school and where she might be now, if she’s still alive. And she wonders, too, if she would have done the same thing as Hastiin Tadidiin.

“He was just protecting his family and his kids,” Tadytin-Tsingine said. “And I’m pretty sure there are stories out there that the kids did not come home. I probably would do the same thing to protect my kids.”

Alastair Lee Bitsóí is Diné from Naschitti, Navajo Nation, New Mexico. An award-winning journalist, he formerly reported for The Navajo Times and The Salt Lake Tribune and now works as a correspondent for High Country News and other outlets.