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Rosebud Sioux Tribe Pursues Carlisle Repatriation

Courtesy RST DCI Sicangu Youth Council

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has begun an effort to repatriate remains of tribal members who died while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. We spoke with the tribe’s Historic Preservation Officer about the history of Lakota students at the school and what’s being done to bring home their remains.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has been gathering information about how to repatriate the remains of at least 10 Lakota students who died at Carlisle in the 19th century.

Knowing the students’ remains are there is one thing, says Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Russell Eagle Bear. Getting approval to repatriate them may be quite another.

“They wanted proof of relationship,” explains Eagle Bear. “Proof of consent and authority on behalf of the family. And an affidavit or court order showing all of the family is represented and consents to the proposed course of action. Consent of the tribe or Indian nation involved.”

A waiver of any liability against the federal government…and the list goes on.

Eagle Bear says the current move to return the remains of Lakota students who attended Carlisle came after a youth group from the tribe visited the site of the country’s first federally funded boarding school.


“Once they saw what was there…the way it was set up…they came back with questions and they started that process of asking why can’t we bring our relatives home…because they’ve been there for 130 years,” Eagle Bear recalls.

Credit Public domain
U.S. Army Captain Henry Pratt founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School to “kill the Indian...save the man”.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 by U.S. Army Captain Henry Pratt, who fought for the Union during the Civil War. He also took part in a variety of campaigns against the Plains Indians including the “Battle of the Washita”…where some 200 Cheyenne men, women and children were killed by the 7th Cavalry. 

Pratt’s goal at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School was to “kill the Indian…to save the man”.

Micah Lunderman is a suicide prevention mentor for the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She was with the tribal youth group that visited Carlisle last year.

“Before we left we went to the cemetery,” Lunderman recalled. “And…it was…very….I think very emotional for our children that went to the cemetery. They said a prayer. They sang a prayer song. And they each left a piece of candy for each of the graves.”

Students from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe who died at Carlisle ranged in age from 10 to 18 years old. 

Credit Courtesy RST DCI Sicangu Youth Council
Marker at the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School cemetery.

Russell Eagle Bear says the Rosebud Sioux Tribe is working with other Native American nations whose students died at Carlisle to bring their remains home as well…including the Northern Arapaho and the Oglala Sioux.

In the end, notes Eagle Bear, the decision on whether or not to permit the repatriation rests with the commanding officer of what is now the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle. That’s because the site is an active military base.

Eagle Bear has also learned that the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act…which protects Native remains and funerary objects…doesn’t apply to active military bases.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has petitioned the South Dakota Congressional team for assistance with the repatriation and also plans to ask President Obama to intercede.

Like the American military, says Eagle Bear, the Lakota people have a tradition of bringing the remains of their dead home for their final rest. Being able to repatriate the student remains at Carlisle, he notes, would help their families…as well as the entire tribe…to heal.

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