Special to Indian Country Today
MISSION, South Dakota – Nine ancestors taken from the Sicangu Lakota to attend the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania were brought home Friday with prayer and ceremony.
The children departed from Whetstone Bay more than 140 years ago, forcibly removed from their families and stripped of their language, culture and traditions to attend the government-run boarding school with new European names.
They returned to the Sicangu this week after being disinterred from unmarked graves for a final journey home: Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk); Rose Long Face (Little Hawk); Lucy Take The Tail (Pretty Eagle); Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt); Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder); Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear); Friend Hollow Horn Bear; Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull); and Alvan (Roaster), who was also called Kills Seven Horses and One That Kills Seven Horses.
The children were among more than 100 who died while attending the notorious boarding school, and marked the fourth time since 2017 that remains found at Carlisle have returned to their homelands.
“Now they’re home with the relatives,” Russell Eagle Bear, Black Pipe Tribal Council representative said Friday at the ceremony to receive the remains. “It is a sad occasion, yet it’s really powerful and historical for our people, the Sicangu Oyate. We are really fortunate to be able to do this ceremony.”
The remains left Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday with a ceremony on their way to Sioux City, Iowa. They left Sioux City on Friday morning and traveled to Whetstone Bay near the Missouri River, where they were greeted by a large gathering of relatives.
A caravan led by by the motorcycles of the Sicangu Lakota American Legion Riders Post 125 escorted the ancestors home.
(Previous: Indigenous children finally headed home)
It is believed the children departed by steamboat from Whetstone Bay to travel to a train station, where they left for Carlisle. The Sicangu had a pre-reservation camp established near the river, where they would receive government rations.
“It was the last time they would see their relatives,” Eagle Bear said.
A final escort home
The disinterred remains of each ancestor were prepared for the trip home by Ione Quigley, Rosebud’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, who spent several days overseeing the disinterment.
Several months ago, the late Chief Leonard Crow Dog, a descendant of Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull), held a special ceremony to prepare her for the journey to bring home the ancestors. Quigley offered special songs as she carefully wrapped each child in a buffalo robe before placing their remains in a cedar box.
Upon arrival at Whetstone Bay, each ancestor was carried by two young Sicangu men and placed on the ground in a large council teepee near the shore of Whetstone Bay. Spiritual leaders, members of the Sicangu Youth Council and other relatives joined the ancestors in the teepee for prayer.
Spiritual leaders Richard Moves Camp and Keith Horse Looking Sr. offered for the ancestors. A Sicangu drum group rendered memorial and prayer songs.
The Cante Ohitika Okodakiciye (Brave Heart Society) brought water and spiritual food to offer to the ancestors, as spiritual leaders and relatives gathered in the tipi. The spiritual food is also called wasna, or pemmican, and is prepared with corn, meat and chokecherries.
Following the ceremony, a long caravan followed the ancestors back to the Antelope community where a wake was held at Sinte Gleska University. Prayers were offered by Moves Camp, Horse Looking and Kirk Fool Bull.
Several people were waiting along the route. The members of the Okreek community held orange signs with each child’s name written on them.
Each cedar box was opened to place the buffalo robes holding the remains on the special space created for the ancestor. Items were placed alongside to honor the ancestors, such as a star quilt, RST flag, pictures, red cloth, sage, and other items brought by family members.
“The spirit of the Lakota is very strong,” said Rodney Bordeaux, president of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. “That really makes me proud because we have a good future ahead of us and we need that strong spirit to move us forward.”
Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear, a descendant of Friend Hollow Horn Bear, asked the people to imagine being asked by strangers, “Who are you? What are you? Why do you wear that feather in your hair?”
The children’s return home comes as international scrutiny has focused on the history of Indigenous boarding schools in North America.
In Canada, nearly 1,000 unmarked graves have been found at a former residential school for Native students, but details are sketchy in the United States because of scattered record-keeping.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, has launched an initiative to cull through government records to identify the children who attended and find those who were buried without their families.
“We want our children home no matter how long it takes,” Haaland said at the ceremony Wednesday.
A group of students from the Rosebud Sioux tribe began pushing about five years ago for the remains of their ancestors to be returned from Carlisle. The effort came after a visit to the school, where the nine tribal members died between 1880 and 1910, according to records.
The Sicangu children were among about 10,000 believed to have attended the government-run Carlisle school, which served as a prototype for other Indigenous boarding schools that followed in the U.S. and Canada. An initial group left in 1879 from Whetstone Bay and others followed.
The founder of the Carlisle school was Brigadier General Richard Henry Pratt, whose infamous comment, “kill the Indian, save the man,” defined the assimilationist policies and militaristic system that forced children to cut their hair, abandon their Native clothing and disavow their language.
The children were among 10 students whose remains were disinterred at the school; the remains of an Alaskan Aleut child was returned home earlier this year.
The remains returned to South Dakota will be buried in a veterans’ cemetery or in family graveyards.
‘You are never alone’
Chief Hollow Horn Bear said each of the ancestors left home with Lakota values instilled.
“You see this ground you call Earth? That is my mother, that is my grandmother, who gives me everything I need to live, that is who I am,” he said. “You see that sun up there that you curse because it’s too hot? That sun brings me energy, healing and helps me to grow. That wind that you curse because it’s too strong or there’s not enough, and brings the breath of life to this world – that is who I am. This water that you want to poison, the essence of life, the healing power of it – that is who I am. This feather in my hair, takes my prayers and dreams to the creator.”
He continued, “Our children went to the East with these teachings. This is how they sent them back, 142 years later. No more. We will teach our children these ways, these teachings of who they are. That this Mother Earth will take care of us. You are never alone, your closest relative is always right there – your Mother Earth. Tomorrow she will take these young ones and she will cover them, take them into her womb.”
He said the lessons learned are not to be forgotten.
“These teachings we have to carry on,” he said. “Friend Hollow Horn Bear, he would have been my grandfather. I’m honored that he’s home today. I’m sad that I never got to know his life story.
“I’m thankful to the young children whose spirits were strong enough to say, ‘They have to come home.’ And to the adults who listened and supported them. To our leadership, our spiritual leaders who believed in our youth and supported them. There is still innocence and purity in this life when we look into the eyes and behold our lives in our children.
“Let us influence this life with Lakota teachings,” he continued. “We still have these teachings; it belongs to the young ones who stand behind us. It’s theirs.”
This article contains material from The Associated Press.