Skip to main content



  • American Genocide Trailer
  • Podcast Trailer



Amidst an unprecedented federal investigation into hundreds of Native Boarding Schools and the 100,000+ children these institutions forcibly removed, one school has become the epicenter of controversy in America’s attempt to reckon with its dark history: Red Cloud Indian School. While today some see the school as a positive presence in the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota Tribe, others cite it as a perpetrator of generational trauma. While the U.S. government is starting to admit its culpability in a church-facilitated campaign of genocide, the quest for justice is exposing tension throughout the Native community. In this new podcast from IllumiNative, series hosts Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee) and Lashay Wesley (Choctaw) hit the ground in Pine Ridge, South Dakota to chronicle the actively-developing situation for themselves, covering every twist and turn in this true crime story about the compounding intergenerational pain of Native American boarding schools and whether it’s possible for a community, Native peoples, and the United States to achieve truth, healing, and reconciliation.




Two Native women, one a former journalist and the other an activist, launch a deeply personal investigation into events around a former boarding school on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The seemingly progressive school faculty – led by Lakotas – is looking to address their dark history by organizing a science-based search for possible mass graves on their campus. It seems well intentioned and even noble. But further conversations with boarding school abuse survivors, that seem to come from every single family in the community, cause our investigators to question if they have been meeting with the enemy.


Crystal and Lashay find themselves in a secluded park where the local youth activists are planning to disrupt the survey for graves with an important protest. They are guided by elder survivors who faced baseball bat attacks and being chained to radiators by the priests at the school. After a heart-wrenching conversation around abuse, inherited trauma, our investigators begin to see what’s really at stake. This is bigger than the search for mass graves, this is spiritual and has the potential to fracture the Native community nationwide. On the heels of this realization, a secret suspected burial site is introduced, where folks report encountering the restless spirits of former students.


Crystal and Lashay meet with progressive community leaders who are combating the Catholic church with the strongest weapon they have: their culture. They are locked in a battle of wills with Red Cloud School and what they see as the systemic leeching off-of their people. For a better understanding of the fissure between Catholic and Lakota, the investigators travel with one of the leaders to his dining room table, where three generations of former students describe their ordeals. The investigators are left wondering if they could even trust the findings that the school will hand down in the grave search.


Crystal and Lashay set out to clear any doubts they have around the integrity of the search of the school grounds. This leads them to the Native scientist who operates the ground penetrating radar. She’s determined, and despite her cutting-edge technology, swears her allegiance is ONLY to the “lost and stolen children” that she searches for under former boarding schools around the country. They also encounter an elder, who claims to have merged Lakota and Catholic beliefs via quantum physics, who will perform a prayer over the grounds. It is an enlightening and unexpected journey into the deep spirituality that looms over the proceedings.


The air is heavy as Crystal and Lashay arrive at Red Cloud Indian School on the day the ground will be scanned for unmarked graves. All of the characters we have met along the way have descended on the campus. Some want answers, some want solidarity and some want conflict. It is an explosive situation that is exacerbated by the surprise arrival of high ranking government officials. After this episode, nothing will be the same.


One year after the former Native American boarding school began surveying its grounds for the bodies of former students, Crystal and Lashay examine the results, revisit the characters we met, and take a hard look at what steps have been taken toward truth and healing. It’s an episode full of unexpected surprises that culminates in a bold call to action for Indian country and all of its allies.


National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition

IllumiNative is honored to partner with the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS) to further educate audiences about the history of U.S. Indian boarding schools and their impact on Native peoples today.

NABS is the only national organization whose purpose is to advocate on behalf of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians impacted by Indian boarding schools in the United States. NABS is a leader in education, research, and policy advocacy, and works directly with Indian boarding school survivors and descendants to foster healing.

For more information on NABS and their indispensable work, please visit:
A guide to the history of Native boarding schools in the United States and the attempt to reckon with their troubling legacy.
A curriculum on U.S. Indian Boarding Schools for teachers and parents to use with their students and children, covering the history, impact, stories, and healing process surrounding this vital but neglected subject matter.
A searchable database containing scholarship, research, bibliographic materials, media, personal histories, and more related to Native American boarding schools.
People of Pine Ridge
IllumiNative would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the people of Pine Ridge for welcoming us into their community. Their generosity and openness allowed us to share this story with the world.
Sponsoring Partner
We also want to offer a special thank you to the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians who helped make this podcast possible.
Finally, we would like to show our appreciation to the following organizations who helped bring this story to light: