By Vi Waln
ROSEBUD – Spirit is believed to be guiding the efforts of a group of young people in their quest to have human remains disinterred and returned to tribal lands.
The Sicangu Youth Council has set an intent to pursue the return of human remains of several children buried in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The group requested support from the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council through a resolution, which was approved on January 6, 2015.
This week, the group will seek the support of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association. Efforts to have remains returned to tribal homelands stand a better chance of success when the tribes who have ancestors buried at Carlisle join this endeavor. Over 10,000 tribal students from nearly 150 tribes in America attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
The group believes President Barack Obama will listen to leaders from all the tribes affected when they come together and speak with one voice on this issue. That is, when all 150 tribes commit to writing letters to their state legislators, as well as President Obama. He could use his authority to remove any barriers facing the return of these human remains.
The youth council members went through an emotional and spiritual experience when they visited the cemetery in Carlisle last summer. Children and teenagers their age, or younger, were forced to attend the school. These students who attended Carlisle were separated from their families for years, some never came home.
Nearly 200 students who died at Carlisle were buried there. Members of the Sicangu Youth Group learned that the cemetery was moved twice. Those students were denied a traditional burial ceremony in their own homelands. Today, the cemetery is in an area designated as a National Historical Landmark. It is located next to a busy intersection in downtown Carlisle. The site is visited by tourists with no familial ties to the children buried there.
In 2007, the Northern Arapaho began seeking the return of the remains of at least 3 of their tribal students who are buried at Carlisle. Several members of the youth council recently traveled to the Northern Arapaho Reservation in Wyoming to meet with Yufna Soldier Wolf, Director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NATHPO). They also spent time with members of the Arapaho youth group.
The efforts of the Northern Arapaho were stalled with a letter from Thomas Kane, who served as the Installation Legal Officer of Carlisle’s Army War College. The letter denied the request for disinterment of remains of a Northern Arapaho ancestors.
Kane’s letter, dated September 25, 2007, reads in part “I can understand and appreciate your desire to move the remains of your family member to your local burial site; however this installation has serious concerns related to this proposal. The most obvious is that this cemetery has become part of our community and is a historic site.”
On January 8, 2016, Soldier Wolf composed a letter to LTC Greg W. Ank, Garrison Commander of Carlisle. She wrote “our ancestors should not be a tourist attraction. Our ancestors are no longer considered objects of research; they will no longer be considered road side attractions. These children were people; they were sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, future war chiefs, future mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and care takers of this land. For them to be taken away and never given back is appalling.”
The school records kept by Carlisle are sketchy, especially in regards to the names of the children buried in the cemetery. There are over 20 graves with Unknown carved on the headstone. Research efforts by both the Rosebud and Northern Arapaho THPO offices have been frustrating. One burial record simply lists the name Alvan. The record shows Alvan was Sioux and departed (died) on 03/22/1881. Alvan is buried in plot #:a-38. No other information is available.
According to Soldier Wolf’s letter, Rose Salamanca, a Conciliation Specialist in the Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice, has expressed her willingness to work with the NATPHO in facilitating a meeting for representatives from tribes and communities. This meeting would be held to ensure the processes of this endeavor are in compliance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
On the Rosebud, a meeting will be held at the Tribal Office on Friday, January 22, 2016 at 4pm. The public is invited to attend. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Marcida Eagle Bear at (605) 441-5668 or the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (605)747-4255.