SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The U.S. Army has promised to pay for moving and re-burying the remains of at least 10 Native American children who died more than a century ago at a government-run boarding school in Pennsylvania. The school’s mission was to strip the students of their traditions and replace them with European culture.
At a meeting with tribal leaders on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, representatives from the Army agreed to work with the Rosebud Sioux and other tribes to exhume the bodies of children buried at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The tribes will have to follow the official process for disinterment from a military cemetery, and the Army will address each case individually as tribes may not be able to meet all of the requirements because of the years that have elapsed since the children died.
“We are really thankful that they are willing to work with us and that we are going to move forward,” said Russell Eagle Bear, the historic preservation officer for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. His office has used several documents to determine that 10 of the children buried at the site of the former school, which is now part of the U.S. Army War College, are members of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
The boarding school, founded by an Army officer, operated between 1879 and 1918. More than 10,000 Native American children were required upon arrival to have their braids cut off and dress in military-style uniforms in an effort to stamp out their heritage. Students were punished for speaking their native language and had to go by a European name.
The students lived under harsh conditions and were susceptible to various types of diseases, such as tuberculosis, which led to their early death. Nineteen of the nearly 200 students who died and were buried at the school have been identified as members of Sioux communities.
The requirements to exhume a body from a military cemetery include the need for a full statement of reasons for the proposed disinterment, as well as notarized affidavits by all close relatives of the deceased stating that they have no objections. Army cemetery rules define close relatives as spouse, parents, adult brothers and sisters and adult children of the decedent. But, Army spokesman Dave Foster said, the military will work with the tribes on each case “understanding that there will be certain challenges.”
“It is the desire of the Army that the disinterments take place,” Foster said. He added that the Army will attend a conference in June in Washington state and another one in October in North Carolina to ensure that other tribes are aware of the effort and requirements, and that no remains will be exhumed before then.
Representatives from the Northern Arapaho and Standing Rock Sioux Tribes were among those that participated in the government-to-government consultation May 17 in South Dakota.
Eagle Bear said his office has tracked down descendants of the 10 Rosebud Sioux children and has given the Army copies of all documents the tribe has to support the request to repatriate the remains. He added that when the process begins, he will take a medicine man with him to have a spiritual ceremony to help identify the remains, and DNA testing will be a backup.