Nearly 200 Indian children laid to rest at former boarding school

A marker at the Indian cemetery notes that the graves were moved from their original location at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Photo from RST DCI Sicangu Youth Council / Facebook

Nearly 200 children are buried on the grounds of the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

The children died in the late 1800s through the early 1900s. Some of their graves are marked with names but at least one reads "Unknown" as youth from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe discovered last summer during a visit to the site.

"It's unfinished business," Lila Kills In Sight, who recently learned that one of her relatives is buried at Carlisle thanks to the efforts of the youth, told The Allentown Morning Call. "It's emotional. It's spiritual. It's bittersweet."

Young members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Sioux Tribe were among the first sent to Carlisle, according to the paper. Richard Henry Pratt, the founder of the school, even persuaded chiefs to send their own children in an attempt to "civilize" them.

"A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one, and that high sanction of his destruction has been an enormous factor in promoting Indian massacres," Pratt said in a speech in 1882. "In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."

But Pratt didn't always "save" the children entrusted to him, as the cemetery attests. Some families never knew what happened to their loved ones and their descendants are still trying to put the pieces together in order to seek their reburial.

"It is basically figuring it out as we go," Sandy White Hawk, who is Rosebud Sioux and serves as the executive director of the First Nations Repatriation Institute, told the paper.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act allows lineal descendants to reclaim their ancestors and relatives but the law does not apply to military sites like Carlisle. Descendants must instead follow U.S. Army regulations and officials have vowed to pay for the costs of returning the remains of any loved ones.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe's youth council visited Carlisle last summer as part of their trip to Washington, D.C., for the White House Tribal Youth Gathering and the United National Indian Tribal Youth (UNITY) conference.

Get the Story:
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