From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The US Stole Generations of Native American Children to Open the West
Date October 20, 2019 12:00 AM
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[Nearly 200 Native children lie buried at the entrance of the
Carlisle Barracks. Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played
a key role in pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede
and sell land by taking their children hostage. ]
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THE US STOLE GENERATIONS OF NATIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN TO OPEN THE WEST
 
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Nick Estes
October 14, 2019
High Country News
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_ Nearly 200 Native children lie buried at the entrance of the
Carlisle Barracks. Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played
a key role in pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede
and sell land by taking their children hostage. _

Native pupils at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania
(c.1900). The US refuses to account for the deaths and disappearances
of indigenous children in its boarding schools., Frontier Forts/Public
Domain

 

Nearly 200 Native children lie buried at the entrance of the Carlisle
Barracks in the “Indian Cemetery” — the first thing you see when
entering one of the United States’ oldest military installations. It
is a grisly monument to the country’s most infamous boarding school,
the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which opened in 1879 in
Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and closed in 1918. Chiseled onto the white
granite headstones, arranged in the uniform rows typical of
veterans’ cemeteries in the U.S., are the names and tribal
affiliations of children who came to Carlisle but never left. Thirteen
gravestones list neither name nor tribe; they simply read
“UNKNOWN.”

It’s a chilling scene that I was unprepared for when I visited last
year on the 100-year anniversary of the school’s closing. And the
experience was made even more jarring by the mandatory background
check and armed checkpoint I faced just to visit the cemetery and the
school’s remnants. The campus is an active military base, and the
heightened security measures are due to post-9/11 precautions. The
unquiet graves of these young casualties of the nation’s bloody
Indian wars lie next to the Army War College, which trains officers
for the nation’s longest war, the war on terror.

The cemetery was not supposed to be at the front entrance. It was an
accident: In 1927, to make room for a parking lot, the Army dug up the
children’s graves and relocated them behind the base — out of
sight. Then, in 2001, the back of the base was turned into the
entrance to satisfy new security protocols. Now, Carlisle’s deadly
past is on full display. 

_(Carlisle, and boarding schools like it, are remembered as a dark
chapter in the history of the ill-conceived assimilation policies
designed to strip Native people of their cultures and languages by
indoctrinating them with U.S. patriotism. But child removal is a
longstanding practice, ultimately created to take away Native land.
Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played a key role in
pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede and sell land
by taking their children hostage._

_A century after its closing, however, unanswered questions surround
the Carlisle Indian School’s brutal legacy. Secrets once thought
buried — why did so many children die there? — are coming to
light. And the descendants of those interred are demanding more than
just the return of their stolen ancestors._

_“The past of Carlisle is really about justice,” says Ben Rhodd,
the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s tribal historic preservation officer.
Since April 2016, his office has been pursuing the return of 11
children buried at the Carlisle Indian Cemetery. Even in death, Rhodd
explains, Rosebud’s children remain “prisoners of war,” held at
a military base and unable to return to their home on the Rosebud
Reservation, children who were “hostages taken to pacify the
leadership of tribes that would dare stand against U.S. expansion and
Manifest Destiny.”_

_Rosebud is not alone in seeking justice for its young ancestors. The
Northern Arapaho reclaimed its first children in 2017, and other
tribes have followed suit. Since 2013, the National Congress of
American Indians has requested all federal records for the hundreds of
Native children who have disappeared or died while attending one of
the hundreds of federally run or funded boarding schools. So far,
there has been little response from federal officials, who say the
requests are nearly impossible to fulfill. “A lot of students end up
disappearing in the archival record,” says Preston McBride, a
graduate student who has researched the case for the Native American
Boarding School Healing Coalition and written about disease and
student deaths at Carlisle. McBride calls this phenomenon
“administrative disappearance,” in which “even tribes don’t
have the records.”)_

“SON, BE BRAVE AND GET KILLED,” Ota Kte’s father told him, as
if he were going to war. The boy recalled the phrase as he was led
onto a boat with other Lakota children guided by strange white women
and men. This was Carlisle’s first class: 86 Lakota, 66 from Rosebud
Agency and 20 from Pine Ridge Agency, the children of recalcitrant
people who refused to cede any more land to the United States. The
expression — “be fearless” — had been so thoroughly engrained
in Ota Kte’s being that, he claimed, “I knew nothing else.”
During the long, difficult journey eastward, which continued by rail
and ended at Carlisle, the boy clung to his father’s words. 

At the barracks, orderlies lined the children up and told them to take
turns sitting in a chair. It was Ota Kte’s turn: Long, thick locks
of black hair fell from his head as he sat motionless and at the mercy
of the barber. His eyes burned, and he forgot his father’s
instructions. It was the first time in his young life he remembered
crying and feeling fear. To his people, cutting one’s hair meant
grieving the death of a relative. By taking his braids, Carlisle had
shorn him of his physical and cultural identity. Ota Kte mourned the
loss of himself.

In those early years, more students died at the school than graduated
from it. And if one did escape death and return home, that survivor
became, in Standing Bear’s words, “an utter stranger” to their
own family.

He was no longer Ota Kte, “Kills Plenty,” a name he earned for the
enemies slain by his father, George Standing Bear. That name, which
held so much meaning, was replaced by an arbitrary one. Told by a
white teacher to choose a Christian name from the chalkboard, a name
he couldn’t even read, “I took the pointer,” he wrote in his
book _My People the Sioux_, “and acted as if I were about to touch
an enemy.” That day, he became “Luther” in the enemy’s
language. With his culture stripped from him, he felt that he “was
no more Indian” but “an imitation of a white man.” 

Although Luther Standing Bear eventually returned to his home at the
Rosebud Agency, many of his peers didn’t. “The change in clothing,
housing, food, and confinement combined with lonesomeness,” Standing
Bear reasoned, “was too much.” He estimated that in the first
three years at Carlisle, nearly half the Lakota children of his class
died. “In the graveyard at Carlisle most of the graves are those of
little ones,” he lamented. 

In those early years, more students died at the school than graduated
from it. And if one did escape death and return home, that survivor
became, in Standing Bear’s words, “an utter stranger” to their
own family.

STANDING BEAR'S STORY OF LOSS and transformation wasn’t solely his
own; it was a shared, collective experience. And many families
continue to grapple with its legacy, including my own. While
researching this story, I discovered that at least five of my
ancestors from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe had survived Carlisle; the
boarding school experience is just one generation removed from my own.
My father, Ben Estes, and his siblings were students and survivors of
the Catholic-run St. Joseph Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota
— the town where I was born and raised.

For Ben Rhodd, it’s also difficult not to see echoes of this sordid
history in today’s headlines as thousands of migrant children
separated from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border are confined
in detention facilities. “Children are being incarcerated
unjustifiably, without merit but for economic gain.” Many of those
children are Indigenous, fleeing violence in countries like Guatemala
and Honduras. To return Rosebud’s children from Carlisle, Rhodd
says, “is to seek justice for all children and all humanity who come
to this land, our land, to the Native land.”

Since 2017, students’ remains have been successfully returned from
Carlisle’s notorious Indian Cemetery on three occasions. After more
than a decade of negotiations with the U.S. Army, the Northern Arapaho
Tribe secured two returns. The first, in August 2017, brought home two
children, and the second brought home three more in June 2018. They
paved the way for a third effort this June that returned six more
children — three from the Oneida Nation and the rest from the Iowa
Nation, Modoc Nation and Omaha Nation. At the request of the
descendants, the Army disinterred the remains, transferred custody of
them, transported and reburied the children on tribal lands or in
private cemeteries. The children of Carlisle are starting to return
home.

But not yet to Rosebud. 

Despite numerous petitions, Ben Rhodd says, “we have not been able
to retrieve them due to the Army’s process.” The Department of the
Army requires a certified affidavit from each child’s living
descendants. Unfortunately, some of those children were orphans or
have no living descendants, and the tribe, according to the Army’s
procedure, cannot advocate on behalf of its own deceased members.
“Why does the Department of the Army say that a tribe — as a legal
entity, a government and a people — cannot petition for the return
of those who have no living descendants?” Rhodd asks. “How is it
that the Army cannot change its ruling that a nation has no right to
claim its own dead?”

The answer to that question partly lies with the history of how
Lakotas lost their sovereignty, land and children in the first place.

“HOW IS IT THAT THE ARMY CANNOT CHANGE ITS RULING THAT A NATION HAS
NO RIGHT TO CLAIM ITS OWN DEAD?”

WEAKENED BY THE CIVIL WAR, the United States capitulated to the
Lakotas in the aftermath of Red Cloud’s War (1866-1868), which
expelled white settlers and military forts from the buffalo hunting
grounds of the Powder River Country in present-day Montana and
Wyoming. This resulted in the signing of the Fort Laramie Treaty,
which set aside 35 million acres for a “permanent home” for
Lakotas “that no white person or persons shall be permitted to
settle upon or occupy” — a significant victory against an invading
nation. Just three years later, Congress abolished treaty-making with
Native nations altogether. The opening of Carlisle marked a radical
change not only for Standing Bear’s people but also with regard to
Indian policy and the aims of U.S. imperialism.

During the late 19th century Plains Indian Wars, the Indian boarding
school found its primary purchase. The bloody consequences of two
bedrock U.S. institutions — African slavery and the killing of
Indians — inspired Carlisle’s founder, Richard Henry Pratt, a
military man, to embark on a bold experiment to solve the so-called
“Indian question,” once outright extermination was no longer
palatable. Like many of his peers, Pratt was a Civil War veteran
turned Indian fighter. And he came to regard Indian killing as he had
slavery — as unsustainable. A radical solution was needed.

As the title of his autobiography — _Battlefield and
Classroom_ — suggests, Pratt transposed the Indian wars from the
frontier to the boarding school. By removing Native children by the
hundreds and then thousands from their families, he thought he could
break the resistance of intransigent Native nations. Between
1879-1900, the Bureau of Indian Affairs opened 24 off-reservation
schools. By 1900, three-quarters of all Native children had been
enrolled in boarding schools, with a third of this number in
off-reservation boarding schools like Carlisle. Pratt had turned Gen.
Philip Sheridan’s murderous expression — “The only good Indian
is a dead Indian” — into a new motto: “Kill the Indian, save the
man.” Only the military could achieve that kind of goal.

According to Ben Rhodd, the expression also stemmed from a Christian
desire to convert Native people. “The churches in their benevolence
— and I say that facetiously — sought not to destroy Native people
by warfare or annihilation,” he says; “they sought to change the
man, change the heart, change the spirit of Native people. They
concentrated on the baptism of Native children.” Pratt himself was a
lay minister in the Methodist Church. A cleric and a soldier, he
wielded two powerful instruments of colonization, a Bible and a gun.
“In Indian civilization I am a Baptist,” Pratt wrote, “because I
believe in immersing the Indians in our civilization and when we get
them under holding them there until they are thoroughly soaked.”

Pratt first came to the idea of the boarding school while commanding
mixed units of freed African-American and Indian scouts in punitive
campaigns against Kiowas and Comanches on the southern plains of
Texas. He believed the U.S. military had succeeded where past attempts
to “civilize” enemies had failed: They had forged a sense of duty
and loyalty in conquered peoples. Pratt observed how the Army of the
West had successfully brought together whites, blacks and Indians by
turning them into Indian fighters. Under white leadership, of course,
the military had the greatest civilizing influence on the frontier.
But not everyone was equal.

While Pratt rejected biological notions of white racial superiority,
he subscribed to social evolutionary theory. Regarding white Europeans
as the most civilized, he placed black people above Native people in
terms of social development and readiness for citizenship. He believed
slavery was “a more humane and real civilizer” than the
reservation system. Slavery, he thought, was the ultimate
“Americanizer” — “forcing Negroes to live among us and
becoming producers,” as opposed to the “Indian system through its
policy of tribally segregating (Indians) on reservations.” Forced
alienation, starting at birth, from homeland, language, family and
culture, and enslavement with intimate oversight by white overlords
had prepared black people for assimilation, according to this view.
Pratt wanted to reproduce similar conditions for Natives. The prison
became his first laboratory and prisoners his first students.

In 1874, an opportunity presented itself. A military tribunal failed
to convict Native resistance leaders on the Plains because the U.S.
attorney general had ruled that “a state of war could not exist
between a nation and its wards.” It was decided to imprison without
trial the most intractable “wards,” paradoxically, as “prisoners
of war.” The next year, Pratt became the jailer of 72 Cheyenne,
Caddo, Arapaho, Kiowa and Comanche prisoners at Fort Marion, Florida.
“A few of the chiefs were sent as hostages for the good behavior of
their people,” observed Henry Benjamin Whipple, an Episcopal bishop
who visited the prison. Prisoners were drilled with military
discipline, wore surplus Civil War uniforms, cut their hair, learned
English, and eventually became their own prison guards. “They
learned by heart life’s first lesson,” Pratt observed, “to
obey.”

“The children would be hostages for the good behavior of their
people.”

Fort Marion was a small experiment with a large impact that gained
more traction during a tumultuous time. The same year the United
States celebrated its 100th birthday, at the Battle of Greasy Grass
(known in U.S. history as Little Bighorn), a Lakota, Cheyenne and
Arapaho alliance wiped out Col. George Armstrong Custer, Pratt’s
former commander, and his 7th Cavalry. A U.S. military victory seemed
unlikely. Tactics shifted to starving out the militant Lakotas by
killing off the remaining buffalo herds, a primary food source, making
reservation life not a choice but a necessity for survival. The next
step was to undermine customary authority by weaponizing Native
kinship systems against reservation leadership. “Carlisle was
established to intern, so to speak, the children of leadership,”
says Ben Rhodd, “to hold them as hostage, so that their fathers
would not be so warlike and resist.”

Pratt’s success at Fort Marion convinced Indian reformers in
Congress to authorize the Indian Bureau to turn the old Carlisle
cavalry barracks into the first federally run off-reservation boarding
school. It was a peculiar assignment: an active military officer
overseeing a school administered by the civilian-run Department of the
Interior, which itself managed wildlife and Indians. And the first
class would be drawn from those most responsible for Custer’s
crushing defeat, the Lakotas. In 1879, Commissioner of Indian Affairs
Ezra Hayt ordered Pratt to recruit first from Pine Ridge and Rosebud,
“because the children would be hostages for the good behavior of
their people.”

When Pratt first visited Rosebud in September to recruit children, he
was met with suspicion. “White people are all liars and thieves,”
Spotted Tail, a principal leader, told him bluntly. Two year earlier,
the United States had taken the sacred Black Hills for its coveted
gold under a policy known as “sell or starve.” Spotted Tail saw
boarding school as another ploy to take more land. But Pratt told the
leader that the Black Hills were taken mainly because the Lakotas
couldn’t read the documents they had signed. Convinced by this
logic, Spotted Tail conceded. The agency leaders decided that
education was necessary for the survival of their people. They agreed
to send their children. Yet Spotted Tail’s initial distrust proved
tragically justified.

A year later, when he joined a delegation to Washington, D.C., and
visited Carlisle, Spotted Tail witnessed a horrific scene: Children
wore Army uniforms, marched and did drills under the flag of the
military that had killed so many of his people. He saw child soldiers,
not students, and an Army base, not a school. Spotted Tail’s own son
faced a court-martial for bad behavior and was confined to the
guardhouse for a week, a military jail originally built to house
prisoners during the Revolutionary War. Jail was entirely foreign to
Lakotas, and corporal punishment for children was taboo. Out of
protest, Spotted Tail withdrew his own children from the school. He
wanted to take all the Lakota children with him but was prevented from
doing so. It was clear to Spotted Tail that Carlisle taught children
not to read and write, but rather to obey and submit.

Available data suggest that most of the students succumbed to illness
or were sent home because of it and died there. Unsanitary conditions
caused outbreaks of disease, and the lack of warm clothing and bedding
added to the miserable conditions. In the first two years, 16 Native
children died at Carlisle, and eight died after being sent home. Sent
to recruit more students from Rosebud as an adult, Luther Standing
Bear encountered resistance from grieving parents, because “so many
had died there that the parents of the Indian boys and girls did not
want them to go.” 

In December 1880, Ernest White Thunder and Maud Swift Bear, children
of prominent Rosebud leaders, died at the school. Their parents
petitioned the commissioner of Indian Affairs to have their bodies
returned home but were denied to discourage other parents from making
the same request. While it was willing to expend resources taking
children from their parents and shipping them to far-off boarding
schools, the Indian Bureau considered it impractical to send their
bodies home when they died.

When Spotted Tail visited Carlisle, a homesick Ernest White Thunder
stowed away on the train home with him, hoping to escape. He was soon
discovered and sent back. Shortly thereafter, sick and refusing both
food and medicine, he died at the age of 13. “His father, Chief
White Thunder, was very angry that he had not been notified that his
son was even sick,” Standing Bear recalled. If they could not return
his son’s body, the chief asked if “they might at least place a
headstone over his grave.” According to Standing Bear, “Neither
request was ever granted.” To this day, the site of his burial
remains unknown.

CARLISLE WAS NOT UNIQUE, either in its existence or its depravity.
“Child removal is a global issue for Indigenous peoples,” said
Christine Diindiisi McCleave, executive director of the National
Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition (NABS).
Australia’s “stolen generations,” for example, were
“mixed-race” Indigenous children ripped from their families with
the aim of “breeding out the colour” of Indigenous Australians.
Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has also documented the
violent and traumatic legacies of Canadian residential schools and
Indigenous child removal policies from the 1880s to 1996, which were
modeled after U.S. boarding school policies. In 2015, the commission
found that at least 6,000 Indigenous children died in Canadian
residential schools. Canada had a total of 150 schools, less than half
the 357 identified in the United States. “It’s likely that the
number of students who died in the United States is much higher,”
McCleave concludes. 

Seeking justice for past abuses of child removal, Indigenous peoples
have successfully pressured Australia and New Zealand for increased
Indigenous political autonomy and partial land return. The United
States, however, refuses to account for its failure to document the
deaths and disappearances of Indigenous children in its boarding
schools. The responsibility of counting the dead and disappeared falls
to individual descendants, tribal nations like Rosebud, and
organizations like NABS.

In a report filed for NABS, Preston McBride documented more than 450
children who died as a result of attending Carlisle. The majority of
deaths happened during Pratt’s oversight (1879-1904) and peaked in
the 1890s. But McBride thinks that number is a vast undercount.
“Carlisle’s ultimate demographic impact is hard to pin down,” he
says. It’s difficult for several reasons; sometimes tribes and
parents were never notified of a child’s illness or death, and
federal record-keeping was careless. 

The National Archives in Washington, D.C., holds the majority of the
thousands of student files. The children’s death records are kept on
index cards in shoeboxes simply labeled the “Dead Files.” But the
records themselves are incomplete. “All of the (male children) with
the last names L through Z are missing,” McBride tells me. And the
bodies might not even be at Carlisle; children who didn’t die on
campus were sent home to die, but the tribes might not have recorded
the death. Others died at a nearby sanatorium. At least 11 died while
on the so-called “outing program,” which put Native children to
work, for little or no pay, for white families in Pennsylvania, New
York or New Jersey as housekeepers or farm laborers. 

McBride says that this was common practice among nearly all
government-run boarding schools, making individual researchers’
attempts to document deaths a monumental task. That’s why last
April, NABS, the Native American Rights Fund, the International Indian
Treaty Council and the National Indian Child Welfare Association
jointly filed a petition with the United Nations Working Group on
Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances “to account for the fate of
Indigenous children taken into federal custody” as part of U.S.
boarding school policy. The U.N. Working Group was created in 1980, in
part to document and respond to the thousands of disappeared political
dissidents following the U.S.-backed military coup in Chile in 1973.
Since then, it has documented tens of thousands of cases in 88
countries.

If the petition is successful, the U.N. Working Group could open a
dialogue with the United States to begin to account for missing Native
boarding school children. It could also launch an official
investigation whose results would likely bolster cases like Rosebud on
behalf of all Native nations, to return missing children to their
tribes. That’s the outcome McCleave desires — a thorough
documentation to provide answers to descendants and pathways toward
justice. “It’s important to see where we’ve been, to know where
we are and where we’re going,” she says.

BY 1889, A DECADE INTO THE CARLISLE EXPERIMENT, Lakota parents were
heartbroken. Up until then, the Lakota leadership had put up a united
front opposing the 1887 Dawes Act, which proposed to allot reservation
lands by parceling out individual plots to individual Lakota families
and selling off “surplus” lands to white settlers. Given the
forced starvation already occurring on reservations and the loss of
the Black Hills, the horror of the unexplained deaths of
boarding-school children was just too much to bear. 

During a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., in December 1889,
Lakota and Dakota leadership discussed the loss of their children in
regard to their decision to finally accept allotment. Coupled with the
slashing of food rations, the taking of their children was “like
cutting our heads off,” American Horse from Pine Ridge told the
commission. White Swan from Cheyenne River explained, “It seems as
though (our children) learned how to die instead of reading and
writing.” The delegation had been lured to the East not only to sign
over their lands but to also see their children. “Pine Ridge and
Rosebud have their children at Carlisle mostly, so wherever their
children are, they would like to go that way on their road home and
see their children, and then go right home. That’s all,” Chief
John Grass from Standing Rock pleaded before the delegation
departed. 

That same month, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Thomas J. Morgan
issued a memo to boarding schools — “Inculcation of Patriotism in
Indian Schools” — which ordered the singing of “patriotic
songs,” the recognition of U.S. national holidays, “reverence
(for) the flag,” and a day commemorating the passage of the Dawes
Act. The aim was “to impress upon Indian youth the enlarged scope
and opportunity given them by this law and the new obligations which
it imposes.”

Hoping to ease the pangs of hunger and reunite with their children,
the Lakota and Dakota leaders accepted the Great Sioux Agreement of
1889, which opened up 9 million acres for white settlement and created
the six modern Sioux reservations of Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne
River, Standing Rock, Lower Brule and Crow Creek. But the
off-reservation boarding schools stayed opened — more children died,
and more land was taken. 

Between 1887 and 1932, federal allotment policy, which coincided with
the peak of government-run off-reservation Indian boarding schools,
devoured 91 million acres of Native land. In total, two-thirds of all
tribal lands were lost, an area nearly the size of what is currently
the state of Montana. 

For Carlisle students like Luther Standing Bear, the civilizational
project — from boarding schools to allotment — was a failure.
Unable to apply the trade he learned at Carlisle on the reservation
— there were no jobs there for tinsmiths — and frustrated by the
restrictions regarding what he could do with his land, he chose a
career off-reservation, acting in Hollywood Westerns. In his twilight
years, Standing Bear pondered his father’s instructions to “be
brave” and to go to Carlisle. If he were given such a choice with
his own son, Standing Bear concluded, “I would raise him to be an
Indian!”

THE FOUR WORST THINGS THAT COULD HAPPEN to a Lakota family happened
at Carlisle, Ben Rhodd says. “The worst thing is to lose a child,”
he tells me. “The second is to lose your mother. The third is to
lose your father. The fourth one is to not know where a warrior
lies.” The heavy price of losing relatives was intertwined with the
loss of homelands.

The morbid task of disinterring and reinterring dead children,
something unknown to Lakota culture, has forced the creation of new
practices. “We still retain spiritual traditions,” Rhodd explains.
“We have had to create another way to bring back the dead from
another place, whether it be from a museum, university or lab. With
spiritual guidance, we still retain enough of our ancient knowledge to
bring our children home.

“Each child will be wrapped in their own buffalo robe, except for
one, a female, who will be wrapped in smoked elk hide at the request
of her descendants,” he says. “We’re preparing.”

And while the Northern Arapaho Tribe’s recovery of three children
from Carlisle’s Indian Cemetery has been successful, even giving
credence to Rosebud’s case, not all tribes want their children
returned. For some, cultural customs forbid disturbing the dead.

“We have had to create another way to bring back the dead from
another place, whether it be from a museum, university or lab.”

The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act might
not be appropriate for the Carlisle Cemetery, either. According to
Christine McCleave, if invoked, NAGPRA might require a full
archaeological survey, potentially disturbing the graves of children
who come from tribes who don’t want them disturbed. “As they
continue more repatriation, it does affect those tribes,” McCleave
tells me. “What if they pull up a grave and it’s the wrong set of
remains again? They don’t know who’s buried where,” she tells
me. During the excavation of one child’s grave in 2018, for example,
the Army found two other sets of remains from other children.

Rosebud is aware of this concern. But Rhodd knows the history of the
cemetery: Some of the children have already been moved, five times at
most, others at least twice. He fears that under Army jurisdiction,
the cemetery may be relocated again. To the tribes who don’t want
their dead disturbed, he offers the lessons Rosebud has learned. They
had to create new ways of retrieving their stolen ancestors, he says,
and he hopes a successful tribal appeal will encourage others to do
the same. “We will help you,” he says to those who have doubts.
“We will assist them with what they need. But it is up to them.”

[RELATED:[link removed]…
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As the Rosebud Sioux Tribe moves forward with its appeal to recover
its 11 missing children, the stakes go beyond Carlisle. Much like Ota
Kte (Luther Standing Bear), I began writing about Carlisle’s legacy,
trying to be brave, but found my feelings teeter between hopelessness
and anger. The struggle is as much for the return of stolen children
as it is for the land itself. The boarding schools were created, not
as educational efforts, but as instruments to dispossess Indigenous
people of their territory. And like the conflicts that raged during
Luther Standing Bear’s youth, which led to him to Carlisle, the
struggles over the land have not ended. 

When it’s not working on the missing children, Ben Rhodd’s office
defends tribal sovereignty, fighting the oil pipelines crossing the
territory of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. The proposed Keystone XL
pipeline route snakes through a patchwork of tribally and privately
owned land in the northeastern part of the Rosebud Reservation. The
fragmentation of this part of the reservation is a direct result of
the Dawes Act, which the tribe accepted on the condition of its
children coming home from boarding school — a promise that never
materialized. And while Rosebud may get its children back, the future
of the tribe’s land is still in question.

But the return of the children is a step towards justice.

“I can see that place in my mind’s eye. I’ve stood there
twice,” Rhodd says to me calmly, speaking of the Carlisle Cemetery.
His resolution seems simple and inspiring in the face of the history
that has worked against his people. “We’ll bring them home.”

_[Nick Estes (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) is an assistant professor of
American studies at the University of New Mexico and the author
of __Our History is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota
Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous
Resistance__(Verso, 2019). This story was funded with reader
donations to the High Country News Research Fund. Help High Country
News investigate more stories like this.
[[link removed]]_]

 

 
 

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