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Saturday, October 19, 2019

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West

The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West
The U.S. stole generations of Indigenous children to open the West
Indian boarding schools held Native American youth hostage in exchange for land cessions.
BY NICK ESTES
Nearly 200 Native children lie buried at the entrance of the Carlisle Barracks in the “Indian Cemetery” — the first thing you see when entering one of the United States’ oldest military installations. It is a grisly monument to the country’s most infamous boarding school, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which opened in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and closed in 1918. Chiseled onto the white granite headstones, arranged in the uniform rows typical of veterans’ cemeteries in the U.S., are the names and tribal affiliations of children who came to Carlisle but never left. Thirteen gravestones list neither name nor tribe; they simply read “UNKNOWN.”
It’s a chilling scene that I was unprepared for when I visited last year on the 100-year anniversary of the school’s closing. And the experience was made even more jarring by the mandatory background check and armed checkpoint I faced just to visit the cemetery and the school’s remnants. The campus is an active military base, and the heightened security measures are due to post-9/11 precautions. The unquiet graves of these young casualties of the nation’s bloody Indian wars lie next to the Army War College, which trains officers for the nation’s longest war, the war on terror.
The cemetery was not supposed to be at the front entrance. It was an accident: In 1927, to make room for a parking lot, the Army dug up the children’s graves and relocated them behind the base — out of sight. Then, in 2001, the back of the base was turned into the entrance to satisfy new security protocols. Now, Carlisle’s deadly past is on full display.
Carlisle, and boarding schools like it, are remembered as a dark chapter in the history of the ill-conceived assimilation policies designed to strip Native people of their cultures and languages by indoctrinating them with U.S. patriotism. But child removal is a longstanding practice, ultimately created to take away Native land. Although Carlisle is located in the East, it played a key role in pressuring the West’s most intransigent tribes to cede and sell land by taking their children hostage.
A century after its closing, however, unanswered questions surround the Carlisle Indian School’s brutal legacy. Secrets once thought buried — why did so many children die there? — are coming to light. And the descendants of those interred are demanding more than just the return of their stolen ancestors.
“The past of Carlisle is really about justice,” says Ben Rhodd, the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s tribal historic preservation officer. Since April 2016, his office has been pursuing the return of 11 children buried at the Carlisle Indian Cemetery. Even in death, Rhodd explains, Rosebud’s children remain “prisoners of war,” held at a military base and unable to return to their home on the Rosebud Reservation, children who were “hostages taken to pacify the leadership of tribes that would dare stand against U.S. expansion and Manifest Destiny.”

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