The remains of four Native American children who died more than 100 years ago at a government-run Carlisle Indian industrial school they were obliged to attend in Pennsylvania were being disinterred Thursday so they can start the long journey home to their Native families scattered thousands of miles away across the American west.
The US army started the process on Thursday at the cemetery on the grounds of the Carlisle barracks, which also houses the US army war college, but used to be the site of the so-called Carlisle Indian industrial school. The institution acted as an off-reservation boarding school in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where Native American children were sent from their tribal territories in western states, in order to be “Americanized”. The exhumations are expected to be completed in early July.
The children being exhumed include 10-year-old Little Plume, of the Northern Arapaho; George Ell, of the Blackfeet Nation; Herbert Little Hawk, of the Oglala Sioux; and Her Pipe Woman, also known as Dora Brave Bull, of the Standing Rock Sioux. The remains will be transferred to the descendants of the children’s families in Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, who requested the exhumations.
“The army’s commitment remains steadfast to the four Native American families whose sacrifice is known to only a few. Our objective is to reunite the families with their children in a manner of utmost dignity and respect,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, the executive director of army national military cemeteries.
The remains of 15-year-old Little Chief, also known as Dickens Nor, and 14-year-old Horse, also called Horace Washington, were returned to the Northern Arapaho last year. They were reburied in Wyoming’s Wind River reservation.
In the early 1880s the children attended the school founded by an army officer where they forced students to cut their long hair, dress in uniforms, speak English and adopt European names.
It’s unclear how the individuals concerned died, although infectious disease and harsh conditions caused other deaths at the school. More than 10,000 children were taught at the school.