Chippewa Indian Sanatorium, Onigum, Minnesota

In Minnesota, the average incidence of tuberculosis in the Native American population from 1925-1929 was 700 per hundred thousand. That was approximately six times the tuberculosis mortality in the state as a whole. It is probable that the rate was even higher, with additional deaths unreported. In 1923, Dr. Albert Chesley, executive director of the Minnesota State Board of Health, appointed a Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indian public health nurse to work on the Leech Lake Reservation. Marie Broker Hoffman, the first nurse, was succeeded by Elizabeth Sherer.  Josephine Pariseien did similar work on the Red Lake Reservation. Other public health nurses of Indian descent in the 1920s and 1930s were Theodora Davis, Mary Martin, and Adelia Eggestine. 


Several people in Minnesota's public health organizations persuaded the U.S. Congress to create a sanatorium for the Indian population. A former boarding school for Indian boys at Onigum in Shingobee Township on Leech Lake was subsequently remodeled by the Indian Medical Service. It opened in 1924 as an 85-bed tuberculosis sanatorium. It lacked x-ray equipment or a full-time physician, but it did raise awareness of the problem of tuberculosis among the reservation population. 


In 1933, the State of Minnesota deeded land at the Ah-gwah-ching Sanatorium near Walker to the United States government for the purpose of adding a wing specifically for tuberculous Indians.  On January 29, 1935, the wooden sanatorium at Onigum burned. All patients were successfully evacuated and transported on sleds across the frozen Leech Lake to Ah-gwah-ching. They were temporarily housed in summer camp cottages until the "E" building, also known as the Indian or Eagle building, was completed that spring. 


Sources: Adelia Eggestine, Public Health Nursing Work among the Minnesota Indians, 1929, and Rise and Fall of Tuberculosis in Minnesota: The Role of Infection​ by Leonard G. Wilson, 1992.   

Additional resource: Tribal Heritage Preservation Office, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe

From 1924 to 1935, a remodeled Indian boarding school served as a sanatorium for Chippewa (Ojibwe) Indians from the Red Lake, White Earth, and Leech Lake reservations.