For six years, the Rosebud Sioux tribe, also known as the Sikangu Lakota, negotiated the return of the remains of 11 children and young adults who had been buried there for generations. Next week, the remains of nine of those children will arrive in South Dakota, as US and Canadian officials confront the countries’ grim histories of indigenous boarding schools.
Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux tribe, said, “It was a government model … basically, erase the Indian in you and replace it with a white man’s thinking.” “‘Take the Indian and save the child’ was a thing of the time.”
“What they forgot is real resilience in who we are, how we came to be, how we lived and how we survive,” he said.
According to the National Museum of the American Indian and American Army War College, Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first off-reservation boarding school for Native American children, and was built on the abandoned Carlisle barracks. The college now occupies the site.
The deceased are among more than 10,000 students spread across nearly 50 tribes who were brought to the school from across America until its closure in 1918.
Nine children and young adults are part of more than 180 students buried in designated and anonymous burials at Carlisle Barrack Post Cemetery, according to the Office of Army Cemeteries.
When they arrived at the school, the students were between 12 and 18 years old, said Russell Eagle Bear, a historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux tribe.
According to the Office of Army Cemeteries, their names are: Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Lucy Takes the Tale (Pretty Eagle); Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Ernest Knock Off (White Thunder); Maud Little Girl (Fast Bear); Alvan, aka Rooster, kills seven horses, one who kills seven horses; Friends Hollow Horn Bears; and Dora Har Pip (brave bull).
The OAC said some remains have been returned to their families and tribes in recent years, but the remains of more than 100 people are still buried on the grounds of the former school.
The OAC said in a statement, it is not clear which tribe the rest of the children came from, “due to poor records—kept by the Bureau of India—during the operation of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.”
A group of teenagers fought to return home
Mallory Arrow was a teenager when she and some other members of the tribe’s youth council made a stop on the grounds of Carlisle Indian Industrial School after a 2015 visit to a convention in Washington, DC.
“It wasn’t until we got to the grave sites… Until we got to the parking lot of the grave sites, we all started crying… like we all started crying, we all felt the energy there,” said. 22 year old arrow.
That trip sparked a movement within the tribe, led by younger members on that trip, who began asking their elders why they couldn’t bring the children home, another member of the youth council, 23-year-old Akichita Sikala. Hoxilla Eagle Bear said.
Asia Ista Ji Win Black Bull, 21, a youth council member, said, “We are tired of waiting for someone to be our lawyer, so we had to be our own lawyer. We saw a change we needed, so we Changes have happened.”
“A tiny spark from a youth group, visiting Carlisle, set the whole (Lakota) country on fire,” he said.
Next week, a delegation of relatives, tribal leaders and youth council members will travel with the remains as they made their journey to the reservation.
Tribal members would then hold a ceremony near the Missouri River, which is where officials believe the children took the steamboat and began their journey to Pennsylvania, said Eagle Bear, a historic preservation officer.
“This is the last time they saw their parents and relatives, not knowing where they were going or what was happening to them,” he said.
According to Eagle Bear, after relatives and members of the tribe have paid their respects and prayed for the children, the remains of seven of them will be buried in the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Veterans Cemetery and two in their family’s land.
US officials will investigate more boarding schools
The children’s return home is an opportunity for their descendants to heal, but it also reveals how many more children are yet to be found, say indigenous rights advocates and tribal members.
Holland said the Interior Department will review its previous oversight of the school program, assess how it has affected generations of families and identify boarding school facilities and burial sites.
While the unmarked graves discovered in recent weeks were in Canada, Christine DiIndisi McCleve, chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, says similar finds could be in the US.
“If you look at the numbers here from the United States, we had twice the number of schools. You can basically guess that our numbers would be twice the number we found in Canada,” McCleve said.
Because the Coalition has been working for more than a decade collecting the records of more than 300 boarding schools nationwide, McClavey says federal officials are taking on a daunting task.
For McClave, the recent discoveries of unmarked graves have brought pain and trauma to many indigenous communities, reminding them of the misery of their families and how they have lost their language and culture over the years.
As the Sikangu Lakota children prepare to return home, they know much more remains to be done.
“This is the beginning of the fire,” says Black Bull. He said that there are many children who are not accounted for and many pre-boarding schools should be investigated.