Carlisle: The Icon of an Era
In 1879 the first American Indian children arrived at Carlisle Boarding School. The school would remain open for 39 years and some 12,000 children would be sent there for forced assimilation. This was the beginning of the US Boarding School Era—the federal government’s policy of dealing with the “Indian problem” by using education as a weapon. The intent was to remove all traces of tribal cultures—language, spiritual traditions, family ties, etc. and replace them with European Christian ideals of civilization, religion, and culture. “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” was the slogan and cultural genocide was the result.
“Our children were taken. Our language beaten out of them. Their hair cut off without ceremony. And our families torn apart.” Said Christine Diindiisi McCleave, Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, Executive Officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS).
“Generations later, our tribal communities bear the soul wound of this loss. Grieving and inter-generational trauma are the legacies of the US Boarding School Policy. And Carlisle Industrial Indian School was at the genesis of it all. So as the flagship school—the icon and model of all boarding schools—it makes sense that Carlisle would also be the model for healing and the genesis of the truth, reconciliation, and healing process.” Added Diindisi McCleave who is also the descendant of a Carlisle boarding school survivor.
Tribes Request Repatriation
In 2007, Yufna Soldier Wolf, Director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office and a relative of a student who died at Carlisle Boarding School, requested to have the child’s remains returned home. The Carlisle School, now the Army War College, sent back a questionable letter stating that the cemetery had become part of their community and a historic site. They wrote that the Boarding School graveyard was “one of the most beautiful tributes to the Native American people” with daily visits from Native “people as well as other local inhabitants and even several foreign visitors.” Soldier Wolf was infuriated and devastated. It wasn’t until 2015 that she brought the request back to the Army War College and added more students’ names to the list.
The Northern Arapaho requested the following children be returned home:
Little Chief, 14, had been renamed Dickens Nor.
Horse, 11, was renamed Horace Washington.
Little Plume, 9, was renamed Hayes Vanderbilt Friday.
Little Plume Not Found
On August 9, 2017 a group of Northern Arapaho began exhumation of their children’s remains from the Army War College Cemetery in Carlisle, PA to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. The tribal members were there to repatriate three of their children: Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume. Tragically, Little Plume’s grave contained two sets of remains, neither of which were his.
The number of unknown graves has now gone from 12 to 14 at the Carlisle cemetery. 14 “unknown” children buried at a federal school that they were forced to attend. A statistic that shouldn’t exist and one that speaks to the ongoing impacts and historical trauma caused by the disastrous U.S. Indian Boarding School experiment.
“It’s extremely sad and disappointing for the family who is already grieving a loss that never should have taken place,” said Diindiisi McCleave. “It’s showing that there’s more that needs to be looked into about the boarding schools—the treatment and care and responsibility that they had to our children, in life and in death.”
The Northern Arapaho were the first tribe to repatriate their children from the Carlisle Cemetery. Other tribes who had express interest in the Army War College repatriating their children’s remains have been watching these events unfold with many questions about how the Army will proceed now that they can’t find Little Plume.
Tribal Roundtable Needed
Other tribes who have expressed interest in repatriating their children from Carlisle are the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota, Alaskan Tribes, Fort Belknap, Fort Peck, Cheyenne Arapaho, Tamara St. John, Sisseton Wahpeton and several other tribes. Therefore, the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition will be facilitating a Tribal Roundtable Discussion for Carlisle Repatriations on November 30, 2017.
Yufna Soldier Wolf was the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Northern Arapaho throughout the process of repatriation. She is also related to Little Chief. While she celebrates the return of Horse and Little Chief who laid buried far from home for 134 years and now rest with their War Chief Families, she is committed to helping find Little Plume and helping other tribes through the repatriation process.
In September, Soldier Wolf came on board as a consultant to the Boarding School Healing Coalition to help support tribes in the repatriation process. She plans to share a report of the repatriation process at the November Tribal Roundtable. “The Boarding School Healing Coalition acknowledges the efforts of Mrs. Soldier Wolf in the repatriation of the Northern Arapaho children,” said McCleave. “We are eager for her to share her knowledge for others going through the repatriation process at Carlisle and we are excited about welcoming her onto our team.”
The Boarding School Healing Coalition is sponsoring the Tribal Roundtable discussion in support of the other tribes requesting their children’s remains as well as in support of the tribes who have requested that their children not be disturbed. All Tribal Leaders whose tribes have children buried at Carlisle Indian School Cemetery are invited to attend or designate a representative to attend. Tribes can apply for scholarships to attend.
Our goal is to reach all the 59 tribes who have children buried in the cemetery to present how the process went for the Arapaho and start a dialogue for other tribes who may want to repatriate or who would like for their children to stay in the Army’s cemetery.
If you would like more information about the Tribal Roundtable, please visit our events page.