US Army Pledges to Bear Full Cost of Returning Carlisle Remains
Beneath fields in Flanders, Normandy, and Okinawa, young American men and women lie in somber honor beneath row on row of white crosses. There to rest until a certain trumpet sounds.
In a clearing closer and less honored, on the grounds of what is now the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, lie nearly 200 children; gone, but never forgotten; casualties of a federal policy to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” A leading architect of that policy, former cavalry officer Richard Henry Pratt, founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School on these grounds in 1879 on a model of military training.
Bringing home the Carlisle children’s remains was the subject of a potentially explosive meeting on Tuesday between the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council, representatives from several northern plains tribes, representatives of the Department of Defense, and the South Dakota congressional delegation at the Rosebud Casino. At least a few tribal councilmen, veterans of dozens of meetings with the federal bureaucracy, came prepared for a fight. Their’ frustrations were strongly expressed throughout the meeting.
After many months researching the issue, Tribal Preservation Officer Russell Eagle Bear’s office believes at least 11 of the children buried in the Pennsylvania cemetery are Sicangu Lakota. Before the meeting, Eagle Bear said his chief concern was that all the tribes with children buried at Carlisle would be lumped together, leaving the tribes to compete over who has priority. He said his tribe had done its homework, and had a plan ready to go.
Honored at the council table were members of Tokala Inajinyo, Suicide Prevention Peer Mentors and the Defending Childhood Initiative, Sicangu Youth Council. After a trip to the White House last year that included a return stop at the Carlisle Cemetery, these middle and high school students, deeply troubled by the experience, worked tirelessly to bring their ancestors home by collecting more than 1,800 signatures in a petition to their tribal council.
Sharon White Hawk, Sicangu Lakota, spoke with deep appreciation of the youths’ efforts. “This movement that our Sicangu children have started is a prayer from our ancestors… boarding school has an intergenerational effect, and we are still healing from it. Our future was taken away from us.”
Justin Buller, Associate Deputy General Counsel, Dept. of the Army, General Counsel’s Office, and a spokesman for Patrick Hallinan, Executive Director, Army National Military Cemeteries, issued an apology for all the pain and suffering caused by the failed forced extermination experiment. He also said “The Army is intent on paying to make sure your children are returned to the people they came from.” Buller said, “We are not asking for anything from you. We are only wanting to make sure we are honoring your request to return your children to you.” Hallinan’s spokesman further assured that “we will move forward in a process that works for each individual tribe.”