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Today, September 11, the U.S. Army will begin its sixth disinterment project to reunite the remains of five Indigenous children who died more than a century ago with their descendant relatives and communities.

Those students include: Edward Upright, from the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota; Amos LaFramboise, from the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota; Beau Neal, from the Northern Arapaho Tribe in Wyoming; Edward Spott from the Puyallup Tribe in Washington; and Launy Shorty from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. 

The children are among nearly 200 who died in the government’s care between 1880 and 1910 while attending the nation’s flagship Indian boarding school: the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

In 1879, what was then the Carlisle Barracks became the site of the nation’s first Indian boarding school, which was operated by the Department of the Interior until 1918. During those 39 years, it forcibly assimilated 7,800 Native American children from more than 140 tribal nations through a mix of Western-style education and hard labor. Close to 200 children from 59 different tribes died there, of disease often made worse by poor living conditions and abuse, and were buried at the school.

Today, the United States Army War College has taken over the grounds of the former Indian Boarding School, including its cemetery that holds the remains of more than 190 Native children.  

Exhumations from the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery began in 2017, when Yufna Soldier Wolf of the Northern Arapaho Tribe won her 10-year battle to return three Arapaho children. They were reburied on the reservation in Ethete, Wyoming.

Since 2017, the Army has since returned a total of 28 children in five disinterment projects. Each project was conducted for about a month during the summer. A team of professionals from the Army Corps of Engineers’ Center of Expertise for Curation arrives to carry out the process of exhuming and identifying each child’s remains. 

This disinterment project is slated to take about ten days, according to a news release from the Army.

This return marks the end of a 145-year waiting period for the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe of South Dakota.

In 1879, two Oyate boys, 13-year-old Edward Upright (Spirit Lake Nation) and 12-year- old Amos LaFromboise (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), left their homes in the Dakotas to head to school at Carlisle. They were each the son of a powerful tribal leader—Amos of Joseph LaFromboise, a founding father of his tribe, and Edward of Chief Waanatan—in line to become hereditary chiefs of their respective tribes when they grew older. Instead, they never left the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania: They both died before they turned 16, and remain buried in the cemetery beside the former school grounds.

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribal historian Tamara St. John has researched her tribe’s ancestors buried at Carlisle for more than six years in preparation for bringing them home. 

Now, her tribe is slated to facilitate the return of both Oyate boys next week, after expecting the boys return last summer.

“I feel afraid of how much it's going to hurt,” St. John told Native News Online last year, when the Office of Army Cemeteries originally told the tribe their children would be coming home. “I feel afraid for my community and the relatives because it will bring out pain and hurt. After that, I feel excited and happy that things are moving and progressing. And then I feel proud, really proud of our families and our tribes and how we just connected and embraced each other in this and in this difficult thing.”

Stay tuned for on-the-ground coverage from Native News Online.

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This May, we are highlighting our coverage of Indian boarding schools and their generational impact on Native families and Native communities. Giving survivors of boarding schools and their descendants the opportunity to share their stories is an important step toward healing — not just because they are speaking, but because they are being heard. Their stories must be heard. Help our efforts to make sure Native stories and Native voices are heard in 2024. Please consider a recurring donation to help fund our ongoing coverage of Indian boarding schools. Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous-centered journalism. Thank you.

About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Senior Reporter
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.