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Identity & Community

US Army To Return Remains Of 10 Native American Children To Families

Russell Eagle Bear
Regina Garcia Cano
In this May 6, 2016, file photo, Russell Eagle Bear, the historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, stands in his office in in Rosebud, S.D. A group of tribes pushing to place Pe' Sla, a site that's sacred to the Great Sioux Nation, into a federal trust has come up against the state of South Dakota. The state in April appealed a federal decision to take the land purchased by the tribes into trust. (AP Photo/Regina Garcia Cano, File)

The remains of 10 children who died at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Cumberland County between 1880 and 1910 are slated to be exhumed this summer.

Aleut family members will return the remains of one child to Saint Paul Island in Alaska, and Rosebud Sioux descendants will take nine children back to a tribal veteran’s cemetery in South Dakota or to private family plots.

The Office of Army Cemeteries Director Renea Yates said the disinterment was postponed last year due to COVID-19, and she expects the project to continue next year or in 2023.

“The Army’s committed to returning these children if the families desire having them returned to their ancestral lands, so we stand ready to support them with that,” Yates said.

She said family members will be present throughout the process, which is scheduled to begin June 14 and expected to last about a month. The Army will require everyone on site to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Federal Register from April 2, 2021 lists the names of the children to be returned: “Sophia Tetoff from the Alaskan Aleut; and from the Rosebud Sioux: Lucy Take the Tail (Pretty Eagle); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder); Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear); Friend Hollow Horn Bear; Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Alvan (Kills Seven Horses); Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull).”

Carlisle’s was the first of the U.S. government’s boarding schools designed to forcibly assimilate Native American children. It opened in 1879 and housed more than 10,000 children over its history before closing in 1918. Children were forbidden from speaking their native languages and experienced harsh conditions that sometimes led to disease.

More than 180 children were buried in the cemetery.

Historian Barbara Landis wrote an essay debunking ghost stories surrounding a Rosebud Sioux child whose name translated to Take the Tail and who died within months of her arrival in Carlisle. Her name was changed at the school to Lucy Pretty Eagle and later used in a children’s historical fiction book as part of the Scholastic series, Dear America.

Landis and a group of non-native and native women wrote a review pointing out stereotypes and inaccuracies in the book, including its depiction of Lucy Pretty Eagle.

“She was not this ghost story,” she said. “She was a little girl who passed away far away from home under horrible circumstances and her remains were never returned to her home community.”

Take the Tail’s remains are among those of eight children being returned to Rosebud Sioux family members this year.

The remains of some children who died at the school were sent home, while others were buried in communities where they had been sent to work as teenagers, according to Landis. She said the so-called “outings” were unique to the Carlisle school.

Landis wrote that although Take the Tail was the 32nd child to be buried at the school, her grave was the first to be relocated when the original cemetery was moved to a new location on the property in the late 1920s.

“The United States literally tried to erase that cemetery by moving it to a small area at the very back gate of the Carlisle Barracks,” she said. The former school buildings and grounds are now part of the U.S. Army War College.

When the Army changed its security procedure after the 9/11 attacks, Landis said, the cemetery became one of the first things people would see entering the Carlisle Barracks.

The relocation has presented challenges during disinterment. In 2017, the first year that remains were exhumed and returned to descendants, anthropologists discovered one of the graves was marked incorrectly.

“It could always happen once we open the location,” Renea Yates said. “That’s why there’s extreme diligence used.”

Anthropologists analyze the remains to ensure the age and sex matches that of the child in the records.

In 2018, the Army returned the remains of three students to their surviving family members. In 2019, six children were returned.

Yates said family members request exhumations from the Army, which works to identify the gravesites. Tribal Historic Preservation Offices research the children’s genealogy and the histories of their experiences at the school.

Dickinson College hosts a library of documents to support such research.

Read more from our partners, WITF.