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The remains of five Native American children will be returned to living relatives

A studio portrait of thirteen male students wearing school uniforms at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
John N. Choate
/
Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center
A studio portrait of thirteen male students wearing school uniforms at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.

The remains of five Native American children who died at a notorious Indian boarding school more than a century ago will be returned to their living relatives. The U.S. Army announced a Notice of Intended Disinterment on May 24, which said repatriation efforts will begin at the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery in Pennsylvania in mid-September.

The children were students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their families – sometimes when they were as young as six – and forced to assimilate into white society. The facility operated for nearly 30 years under the mission to “kill the Indian” to “save the man.”

Gwen Carr, executive director of the Carlisle Indian School Project, said conditions at the school were brutal and dehumanizing.

“They would put them on a train and ship them across the country [to] get them to Carlisle, shave their heads, delouse them, take away all of their traditional clothing,” she said. “And then teach them, first of all, that you weren't allowed to speak your own language. You were beaten if you did. Basically, they tried to empty out all of the Indian in you.”

The U.S. is now reckoning with that history through the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative, as well as disinterment operations. This will be the sixth disinterment at Carlisle, with the military transferring remains to relatives for reburial, since 2017. Cemetery officials told the Associated Press that 28 children have been returned so far.

“It is a profound thing for these children to find their resting place back where they belong,” Carr said. “Their spirit is still wandering around lost, and they need to go home where the earth recognizes them and where they can truly be laid to rest in the land that birthed them with the people, family and tribes that they came from.”

The students to be brought home died between 1879 and 1910. One named Beau Neal is from the Northern Arapaho Tribe of Wyoming. Others are from the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, the Puyallup Tribe of Washington State, the Spirit Lake Tribe of North Dakota and the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe of South Dakota.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is a contributing journalist and former reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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