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Whetstone Repatriation Ceremony Connects Boarding School Victims With Surviving Relatives

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Thousands of Native American children were sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania during the late 1800s. Now the remains of nine children who died there have returned to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.  

A caravan escorted the remains across the country and stopped Friday at Whetstone on the Yankton Reservation. That's the place where children as young as 10 years old crossed the Missouri River to begin their journey to Carlisle 142 years ago. The federal government forced Native children to leave their families and attend the boarding school.  

Elaine Crow Eagle, of Rosebud, attended the ceremony for the remains at Whetstone. As she talked, Crow Eagle threaded small turquoise beads onto an ornamental string of spirals. 

“I just can’t imagine what they went through,” Crow Eagle said. “They’re never going to see their parents again and their parents are never going to see their children again. For it to be right here it’s just, I don’t know. It hurts … but I’m just glad they’re coming home.”  

Crow Eagle’s husband, Mike, said there are a lot of unanswered questions. 

“Closure to some,” he said. “It will help some families, but not all because it took this long. Why? We’ll never get answers.”  

Maxine Dubray, of Soldier Creek, came to the ceremony at Whetstone as a descendant of survivors from Carlisle. Dubray feels sadness for the young children who did not make it home.  

“It kind of represented my grandmother, my great-great-grandmother, and I was thankful that she made it out of there,” she said. 

Dubray brought her grandson, Kienen, with her. Dubray said it is important to teach the next generation about their history and ancestors.  

Duane Hollow Horn Bear, who’s related to Friend Hollow Horn Bear, one of the nine children, said it was important to stop at Whetstone before taking the remains to their final resting place on the Rosebud reservation.  

“You know, perhaps their spirits remain along the shore there, and physically, physically their bodies are taken,” Hollow Horn Bear said.  

Pairs of young men carried nine wooden boxes of the remains to a prayer lodge.  

The children were finally home.  

Elaine Crow Eagle is glad some of the children were buried in the veteran’s cemetery.  

“These children are like warriors, they’re like warriors,” she said. “They stayed there and they did what they had to.” 

Six children are buried in the veteran’s cemetery, and the other three will be buried in family plots.  

Hollow Horn Bear said that even with the return of nine children, there are many more that have yet to come home. He said what the Rosebud Sioux Tribe accomplished sets an example for other tribes and communities to retrieve their ancestors’ remains from boarding schools across the nation.  

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