On May 10th several Tribes met with the Department of Defense in Rosebud, SD to discuss the return of at least 13 children buried at Carlisle Indian School. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Northern Arapaho spurred the meeting with formal requests for repatriation of their relatives; however, other tribes with children buried at Carlisle came to the meeting about repatriation including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Oglala Nation, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, Cheyenne River, and the Northern Cheyenne.
Representatives from the US Department of the Army panel consisted of Justin Buller, Associate Deputy General Counsel along with Michael K. Trimble, Ph.D from the Army’s Curation and Archives, and Kathleen McLaughlin,Liaison for Native American Affairs, from the Federal Preservation Office. Congresswoman Noem also had a representatives at the meeting, as did Senator Thune and Senator Rounds.
The formal government-to-government consultation opened with smudging, a prayer, and introductions. The Sicangu Youth Council spoke first. They retold their experience of visiting the Carlisle grave site last summer. They recounted their deep sadness and sense of injustice that their relatives were not home where they belong.
NABS Board Member, Sandy White Hawk, also Sicangu, attended the meeting as did one of NABS’ attorney’s from the Native American Rights Fund, Brett Lee Shelton. White Hawk, spoke of the youth and their presentation saying, “We were all so proud of them as they spoke from their heart in a profound, truthful way. They talked about what it must have felt like to be taken so far away from their family and not able to return.”
After the Youth Council spoke, the floor was opened to the Tribal Council who then gave the floor to community members.
When it was the Army panel’s turn, Justin Buller opened his comments with an apology which satisfied some in the audience, but not all. One council member said, “I came here with four pages of points to present and now I don’t have to.” Other community members reiterated why it was important to repatriate the children and how boarding school impacted our communities.
Most left the meeting feeling surprised and excited that the Army said it was going to pay all expenses to bring the children home from Carlisle. SunRise Black Bull asked if the Army would find money to pay for the Sicangu Youth Council to travel to Carlisle and accompany their 10 relatives home. Justin Buller committed to trying to find money for that, but could not promise.
Now begins the bureaucratic process for repatriation. Jeff Gamage, with the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote that “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 – a requirement impossible to meet in the cases of the children who were buried at the school. But, Army spokesman Dave Foster said, the military will work with the tribes on each case.” The Boarding School Healing Coalition along with our attorney’s at the Native American Rights Fund will be watching to see how everything progresses.
We thank everyone who signed the petition in support of the repatriation of these children. Your signatures meant a lot to the tribal historic preservation officers knowing they had public support for the meeting. They carried your signatures with them and were ready to present them to the Army War College representatives, but did not need to do so after the Army said they would gladly cooperate.
Your support for healing around boarding school impacts encourages us greatly. NABS will keep you posted on this and other issues of Boarding School truth, healing, and justice going forward. If you’d like to know of other ways you can support Boarding School Healing, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.