The Rosebud Sioux community is trying to bring back their relatives buried in the cemetery at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. This initiative was started by a group of Rosebud youth who asked the question: Why aren’t they home?
On January 19, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council of Rosebud, South Dakota, passed a resolution to bring home the remains of several Lakota children buried at Carlisle after hearing an impassioned presentation by the members of the Defending Childhood Initiative Youth Council, also known as the Rosebud South Dakota Sicangu Youth Council, according to the Tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer Russell Eagle Bear.
Eagle Bear also explained that the Tribal Council was following the protocol established by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and had sent letters seeking the return of the children’s remains to the Department of Army, Department of Justice, and to President Barack Obama.
The return process started, however, as a result of a visit to the Carlisle grounds by members of the Youth Council last year.
According to Vikki Eagle Bear, project manager of the Defending Childhood Initiative, which developed the Sicanga Youth Council, the students were inspired to take action after the visit.
“We went to Carlisle since the youth are learning about historical trauma. When we arrived Historian Barbara Landis gave us an overview of the school and we visited the grounds and then the graveyard,” Eagle Bear said.
The Youth Council members learned, among other things, that the cemetery was moved twice and that the children never received a traditional burial ceremony.
“With Lakota, it is really important to pay respects to the spirits. The young people left candy offerings to the kids buried there. One child called their names out loud four times to make sure the children would come back home with them,” Eagle Bear said.
“As that happened, fireflies enveloped the area, we were overcome with emotions,” she said. “When they came back, the youth gave a report to the Tribal Council and asked ‘why aren’t we doing something to bring them home?’”
The Tribal Council then passed a resolution to begin the process of trying to bring the Lakota children back to Rosebud. The Tribal Council also sent notices to the descendants of the ten children from Rosebud buried in Carlisle, asking them to attend a meeting to get their blessing for the endeavor.
Both the Tribal and Youth Council held special gatherings for the descendants who, according to press statements, supported the effort to bring home the relatives. They also sought and received support from the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.
In the process of learning about the children buried at Carlisle, the Youth Council members found out that the Northern Arapaho community in Wyoming also tried to have their family members returned from Carlisle in 2007, but the Army refused the request.
A group of Youth Council members traveled to the Northern Arapaho Reservation to learn more about their ongoing effort. The Youth Council representatives met with Yufna Soldier Wolf, director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office, who explained their situation.
The Youth Council has stayed in contact with Soldier Wolf who is still fighting for the return of their relatives after Army spokesman Thomas Kane, who served as the Installation Legal Officer of Carlisle’s Army War College, said that the Army “...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.”
Last month, Soldier Wolf wrote a letter to LTC Greg W. Ank, Garrison Commander of Carlisle, saying that, “Our ancestors should not be a tourist attraction. Our ancestors are no longer considered objects of research; they will no longer be considered roadside attractions. These children were people; they were sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, future war chiefs, future mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, and caretakers of this land. For them to be taken away and never given back is appalling.”
As of press time, the Rosebud community had not heard from the federal agencies or the President regarding their request.