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After Many Requests, Boarding School Children's Remains Returned To Northern Arapaho

Melodie Edwards

After numerous requests by the Northern Arapaho tribe, the remains of children buried in a cemetery at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania in the late 1800’s have been returned to them so they could re-bury them on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Last month, the army college that now owns the former boarding school and graveyard agreed to exhume three of the graves.

Olivia Washington and her son, Josiah, traveled to Pennsylvania and sat by the grave of their ancestor, Horse, as authorities dug him up. Horse was the son of Chief Washington and was nine when he left. Olivia Washington said his father sent the boy with gifts of peace to offer government officials. But many of the children never returned. Over 200 Native American children died at the school of illness or abuse. Josiah Washington said that history was palpable on his recent visit.

“Your skin was crawling kind of,” he said. “And you know, you would sit there and you’d just look around and think about what these kids have done and what they have done to the kids.”

But Olivia Washington said the whole process was ultimately healing.

“Now that he’s back here, it really does bring you a sense of peace and, you know, happiness. You’re not happy that they had to go away and experience the things that they did. But you’re happy that now they’re here where they belong. And they’re no longer a tourist attraction,” she said.

Another child, Little Chief, was also successfully exhumed. But the grave of a third, Little Plume, contained the bones of two children and had to be reburied and a new gravestone posted on the grave designating those children as unknown. 

Such mix ups are probably common since the graveyard had been moved decades before to a smaller lot to make way for a parking lot.

Melodie Edwards is the host and producer of WPM's award-winning podcast The Modern West. Her Ghost Town(ing) series looks at rural despair and resilience through the lens of her hometown of Walden, Colorado. She has been a radio reporter at WPM since 2013, covering topics from wildlife to Native American issues to agriculture.
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