Rosebud Sioux claims the remains of children from Carlisle Indian school as anger rises in Canada over anonymous graves
The boy called One That Kills Horse arrived in the first group of children brought from South Dakota to the Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, tripping off a train shortly before midnight on October 6, 1879.
Like the dozens who came with him, and the thousands who came later, the 12-year-old was quickly stripped of his hair and his heritage.
The school renamed him Alvan.
And after his death two years later, that was the name inscribed on his gravestone.
Now representatives of the Rosebud Sioux tribe have come to bring him home, along with the remains of eight other sons and daughters, including five who were part of that fateful first group. A 10th child returns to his Aleutian people in Alaska.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Russell Eagle Bear, a member of the Rosebud Tribal Council who came to Carlisle this week, having helped spark the return years ago. “We have come to visit the children and let them know that we are here.”
The multi-week-long effort marks the largest repatriation to date from the tidy, military-style cemetery on the grounds of what is now the Army War College. It comes at a time of great judgment, amid national cries against white supremacy and the heartbreak and outrage that erupt over the discovery of the remains of 751 people, mostly children, at the site of ‘a former Canadian residential school – weeks after the unremarkable graves of 215 children were found there at another school.
Native American leaders in that country say the trauma, loss and suffering of the boarding school era – which pushed thousands of children through painful government-led assimilation efforts – continue to run through the ages. families and tribes, and it is high time to tackle them.
“The United States also has anonymous graves,” said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, executive director of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, known as NABS. Organization calls for investigation into “genocidal campaign” to eradicate people and cultures in at least 357 government and church run schools where many children have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused.
This week, US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo and whose great-grandfather dated Carlisle, announced the creation of the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative to investigate policies that force children to assimilate.
The initiative will aim to identify known and possible student cemeteries, and determine the identities and tribal affiliations of the children there. A report is expected in April.
“We need to find out the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of schools,” Haaland said.
The seed of the system was planted here in Pennsylvania, where former cavalry officer Richard Henry Pratt opened the country’s first off-reserve boarding school in a former army barracks.
For 40 years, his school worked to “civilize” Native American children by eliminating their names, languages, religions, customs and family ties, forcing them to speak English, and teaching them rudimentary professional skills.
Beatings were common punishments, and epidemics killed boys and girls weakened by forced labor, bad food, and loneliness. More than 10,000 children passed through Carlisle before it closed in 1918, including about 180 who rest in the cemetery.
“It’s both a time of celebration to welcome them into their home, but also a moment of sadness in realizing what happened,” said Ione Quigley, Rosebud Sioux Tribal Historic Preserver. . “Don’t mind if you see a lot of tears.”
It was the Rosebud Sioux who in 2016 began to publicly push the army, which controls the cemetery, to return the children to their country of origin. In three digs over the past four years, the remains of 11 children have been returned to tribes, including the Northern Arapaho, Blackfeet, Oneida and Iowa.
Everything did not go as planned. A random move in 1927 from the school cemetery created doubt as to who is where underground.
In 2017, the remains of two children, Little Chief, who was renamed Dickens Nor, and Horse, called Horace Washington, were returned to northern Arapaho in Wyoming during the first repatriation. But a third grave that was believed to contain a boy named Little Plume, also known as Hayes Vanderbilt Friday, contained nothing but heartbreak.
The little Plume was not there. In his grave were two sets of other remains, their identities unknown. The military then located Little Plume and sent him back to Wyoming the following year.
“Our children did not come here on their own,” said Ben Rhodd, a Potawatomi archaeologist who works for the Rosebud Sioux.
He turned to the cemetery work crew: “Do your best and do it with honor.” It has a big implication with our history and the treatment of our people, our ethics. The children were innocent, but used as pawns.
When Pratt went looking for boys and girls to fill his school, he first traveled to South Dakota, Rosebud and Pine Ridge.
The Federal Indian Bureau has targeted disgruntled tribes, specifically looking for the children of chiefs and rulers “who may thus be held hostage for the good behavior of the whole tribe,” historian Robert Brunhouse wrote in a study on the founding of Carlisle. “In order for the hostage system to be effective, the children of the tribal chiefs had to be obtained. “
Ultimately, Native American children would simply be seized by white authorities. But initially, Pratt used persuasion to get the chiefs to surrender their sons and daughters, telling them that by learning the White language and way, young people could become effective negotiators for their people.
“Carlisle has always sowed betrayal of the tribe and loyalty to the nation as a whole,” Pratt later observed.
This first group traveled here by wagon, steamboat and train, 65 children from Rosebud and 18 from Pine Ridge, 59 boys and 24 girls. Also from Rosebud Sioux came a 27-year-old performer who spent eight months enrolled in school.
They were greeted on the train platform by hundreds of Carlisle townspeople, Pratt having convinced the city’s rulers of the wonder of his plans.
At the time, white society viewed the idea of forced assimilation as a gradual solution to the “Indian problem,” more humane than outright killing Native Americans.
“The Whites, by the law of conquest, by the justice of civilization, are the masters of the American continent, and the best security of the border colonies will be ensured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians,” wrote a journalist from the South Dakota, L. Frank Baum, later author of the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. “Better that they die than live the miserable that they are.”
Teachers cost less than soldiers. Although in Carlisle and elsewhere, children have perished.
How many died in American boarding schools? Nobody knows.
Native American scholar Preston McBride estimates that number could exceed 10,000. Some children have simply disappeared. A Canadian commission has found that up to 6,000 people have died from abuse and neglect in this country.
This fourth exhumation at Carlisle Barracks will see the military transfer custody of the remains, with reburials in family plots or tribal cemeteries. The end of the work is tentatively scheduled for July 17.
“Our goal is to reunite families with their children with the utmost dignity and respect,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director of the Army’s National Military Cemeteries.
The boy the school called Alvan died on March 29, 1882, the cause of his death not being indicated in school records.
“He’s always been a good boy,” wrote his classmate Rosebud Sioux, Luther Standing Bear, a few days later. “So we were very happy for him. Because he’s better now than he was on Earth.
Two children who arrived from Rosebud that first night died on the same day 14 months later: Maud, also known as Little Girl, Chief Swift Bear’s 16-year-old daughter; and Ernest, whose first name was Knocks Off, Chief White Thunder’s 18-year-old son.
Maud was the first girl to die in school, killed by pneumonia. Ernest died of an illness that started as a sore throat.
At least three more of Rosebud’s early arrivals did not survive their time in Carlisle.
Rose Long Face, or Little Hawk, died in April 1881. Dennis Strikes First, whose father was Blue Tomahawk, died in January 1887. Dora, also known as Her Pipe, Brave Bull’s daughter, was 16 years old when she arrived in Carlisle and died about two years later, in April 1881.
Lucy Pretty Eagle, also known as Take the Tail, arrived at school at the age of 16 in November 1883 and died four months later. It occupies one of the most remarkable tombs of the cemetery, first row, first stone.
Warren Painter, known as Bear Paints Dirt, died in September 1884. Her friend Hollow Horn Bear died in May 1886. Sophia Tetoff, who was lost to consumption in May 1906, returned to her people in Alaska .
Few Native American families were spared from residential schools. The trauma of lost children and the suffering of those claiming to be residential school survivors has been passed down from generation to generation, even as the truth of the day has been left out of the history books.
Over 90% of respondents to a NABS survey blamed high rates of substance abuse and mental health issues on residential school injuries. Almost all said that the federal government must recognize the fact that children have been abducted and sent hundreds of kilometers to places where they have often been abused.
Next month, if all goes according to plan, the remains of the Sioux children of Rosebud will be brought back to the reserve, a space larger than Rhode Island. Some will have been missing for more than 140 years.
“They were left here,” Rhodd said. “They have to go home.”
Personal photographer Charles Fox contributed to this article.