Indianz.Com > News > ‘We are bringing them home’: Lakota youth on long overdue journey from Indian boarding school
‘We are bringing them home’
Lakota youth on long overdue journey from Indian boarding school
Thursday, July 15, 2021

After a long process driven by youth, nine Lakota children who died at one of the most infamous institutions of the Indian boarding school era are finally returning home.

During a ceremony on Wednesday, the U.S. Army officially transferred the remains of nine children to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. The event took place at the site of the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, over 1,400 miles from Lakota homelands in South Dakota and more than 140 years after being taken from their families.

“Our relatives Ernest, Maud, Lucy, Friend, Warren, Alvan, Dora, Dennis, and Rose are leaving the Carlisle Barracks after 142 years,” the Sicangu Youth Council / Tokala Mentors said on social media as the solemn journey began.

“We are bringing them home,” the group consisting of youth and young mentors said.

President Rodney Bordeaux of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and President Kevin Killer of the Oglala Sioux Tribe were among a large delegation of Lakota citizens, including many youth, who traveled to Carlisle for the transfer. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who has launched an investigation into the genocidal Indian boarding schools, also attended.

“I am committed to elevating this tragic history so that we can build a better future for our children,” promised Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna whose own ancestor also was sent to Carlisle.

According to the U.S. Army, the nine children were buried in what is now known as the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery. An April 2 notice in the Federal Register provided their names:

• Lucy Take the Tail (Pretty Eagle)

• Rose Long Face (Little Hawk)

• Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder)

• Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk)

• Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear)

• Friend Hollow Horn Bear

• Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt)

• Alvan (Kills Seven Horses)

• Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull)

At least 180 children who were sent to Carlisle died at the institution, which was established and operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs between 1879 and 1918. The site is now under the control of the U.S. military, which has only recently started to work with tribes and Native families on the best way to handle the sensitive situation.

“The Army’s commitment remains steadfast to these nine Native American families and one Alaskan Native family,” Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, said last month in describing the return of the nine Lakota children, along with an Aleut student from Alaska named Sophia Tetoff.

“Our objective is to reunite the families with their children in a manner of utmost dignity and respect,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera.

In the case of the Lakota students, the process was driven by Sicangu Youth Council. Members of the group visited Carlisle during a field trip to the East in the summer of 2015 and were motivated to bring their lost relatives back home.

Carlee Olson, a current member of the council, wasn’t a part of the original trip six years ago. But she heard stories from those who went.

“I knew this was gonna be a journey when you all shared your own experiences,” Olson said on the youth council’s social media as she visited Carlisle for the first time this week. “So finally after all those years talking about it, we’re finally doing it! They are finally coming home!”

“Standing out there today felt so surreal, but the feeling in me felt like a piece was missing and being this close to something you all started six years ago,” Olson said of her young counterparts.

But the youth and the tribe quickly ran into obstacles. Since the site is under military control, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act does not apply. The 1990 law otherwise requires the repatriation of ancestral remains to tribes and their descendants.

Another Indian nation, the Northern Arapaho Tribe, was finally able to secure the return of some children in 2017. Only two such “disinterment” projects have taken place under military regulation since then, according to the U.S. Army.

“OAC will disinter and transfer custody to families able to establish the closest family link between the decedent and requestor, following Army Regulation 290-5,” the Office of Army Cemeteries said last month. “The transfer will enable families to return the children to cemeteries of their choice. The Army will reimburse families for their travel to participate in a transfer ceremony and is also funding the cost for transport and reinterment of the deceased children.”

The Lakota children are now on their way back to South Dakota. The tribal delegation plans to stop on the Meskwaki Nation in Iowa on Thursday afternoon, according to the youth council.

The group will spend Thursday night in Sioux City, Iowa, which is historically known as a crossroads for a number of Indian nations in the region. Kevin Abourezk, managing editor for Indianz.Com, plans to attend events there.

The Lakota delegation then expects to pass through the Santee Sioux Reservation in Nebraska on Friday morning. The tribe is organizing a memorial along a highway on the reservation.

“We as Santee Sioux Nation need to come together and show our respect as they pass through,” a social media post written on behalf of Chairman Roger Trudell and Vice Chairman, Sid Tuttle, Sr. reads.

As the group crosses into South Dakota, the Yankton Sioux Tribe will host a prayer and lunch on Friday afternoon. Arrival on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation is expected that evening.

“Please keep us in your prayers as we make our journey home,” the Sicangu Youth Council / Tokala Mentors said.

Burial ceremonies are set to take place on Saturday, according to the schedule.

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