For Steve and Joseph Moose, the return of Rosebud Sioux children’s remains to their homeland after more than a century was emotional in more ways than one.
The Moose brothers witnessed Friday’s caravan heading through the Santee Sioux Nation in northeast Nebraska. The procession included the coffins of the nine children — who died between 1880 and 1910 at a government-run boarding school in Pennsylvania — who were finally being returned home.
The procession made stops for a Santee Sioux honoring ceremony at Ohiya Casino near Santee, Nebraska, and for a lunch and prayer ceremony by the Yankton Sioux Tribe at Fort Randall Casino near Pickstown.
The Moose brothers, both Sioux, recently learned they were related to at least one of the children forcibly transported from South Dakota to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
“We didn’t know anything about it, that we’re descendants of these children, until maybe two days ago when our aunt called and informed us about it,” Joseph told the Press & Dakotan.
“I tried to learn a little more on what happened (at Carlisle) and the history of what has been going on. I don’t know what to really think about it. It was horrible; (these children) shouldn’t have had to go through what they did.”
Steve said he wasn’t aware of any family connection to the Carlisle facility, which sought to force Native Americans to assimilate into white society.
“For me, it was a surprise that our ancestors were part of it,” he said. “I’m an advocate for the children, and when you understand what happened there to these children, it’s very heartbreaking. But yet, I’m happy that they’re finally going to be home.”
The government operated the Carlisle boarding school from 1879-1918. More than 10,000 children were enrolled at the school, where programs sought to forcibly take away their traditional clothing, language and culture.
An estimated 180 children died at the school and were buried there.
THE JOURNEY HOME
This week, the remains of the nine children were repatriated to their original home on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s homeland in south-central South Dakota. After a ceremony Wednesday at the U.S. Army’s Carlisle Barracks, the remains were transported to Sioux City. On Friday, a procession took the coffins to the Rosebud Sioux homeland in south-central South Dakota.
Along the way, the caravan stoppedfor the morning Santee Sioux honoring ceremony and later for the Yankton Sioux lunch and prayers.
On a Facebook post earlier this week, Santee Sioux Tribal Chairman Roger Trudell and Vice Chairman Sid Tuttle Sr. informed members of the upcoming procession.
“We as Santee Sioux Nation need to come together and show our respect as they pass through,” the two leaders said.
Tribal members responded, setting up a memorial along Nebraska Highway 12 running through the reservation from east of Lindy, Nebraska, to the Santee spur. The items included toys, teddy bears, balloons and flowers.
In addition, the summer school class made posters with orange handprints. Many of those attending the honoring ceremony wore orange T-shirts as a sign of solidarity. Messages included “Never To Be Forgotten,” referring to the nine children on their way home.
The caravan was escorted by the Native American-based Redrum Motorcycle Club. The honoring ceremony included a traditional drum circle, sage and a prayer offered by Tuttle.
Trudell offered remarks for those gathered, noting the latest repatriation efforts under way since 2017. “It took many years to identify and bring these relatives back to their homeland at Rosebud,” he said.
Trudell urged the audience to learn more about Carlisle and other boarding schools. In recent months, nearly 1,000 unmarked graves have been discovered at Canadian board schools for indigenous children.
“It’s a hard thing to consider. The boarding schools may have created some good, but they also created a lot of wrong,” Trudell said. “Our relatives may be buried far away from home. In some cases, they couldn’t identify (the remains). And in some cases, the family back home never knew (what happened to their children).”
The issue goes far beyond the Rosebud Sioux and covers the entire U.S. and Canada, Trudell said. The Santee Sioux Nation contains members who attended boarding schools, and the tribe needs to check its own history for any missing children.
“We are encouraged to participate in these journeys to bring our relatives home and to take our relatives from their last resting place to their grave site,” he said.
FAMILY MEMBERS SPEAK
During Friday’s honoring ceremony, the Moose brothers addressed the audience but said they found it emotionally overwhelming.
Joseph remained mostly silent, standing off to the side. Steve fought back tears as he spoke. He anticipated difficulty in finding the words, so he had written a Facebook post the previous evening that he read to the Santee gathering.
“I can’t help but imagine what those children, or any child going to any of those schools, suffered. When we talk about historical trauma, this is exactly what that means,” he said. “My dad went to a place like that. My mom went to a girls’ school like that. Thinking about my life growing up, I can’t help but feel saddened (because) maybe it could (have) been different for them.”
Steve continued with his thoughts.
“I spent my entire adult life without my parents, yet I treasure the time I did have with them. My dad wasn’t highly educated but yet was one of the smartest men I ever knew. He instilled family first,” Steve said.
“(I’m) thinking that all those children (in Carlisle) never had that. They were taken away and were punished for being who they were, which is (being) a proud Native American. So tonight I pray. Tomorrow we support and help those children on their way home. Hug your babies tight. Hug your moms and dads tight. Always remember we as Natives are survivors.”
After the ceremony, the Moose brothers told the Press & Dakotan of their appreciation for the support shown at the Santee memorial. However, they acknowledged that much more will hopefully come out about not only Carlisle but also all boarding schools that experienced similar situations.
“Basically, (these children) were taken from a lot of what they were taught by their parents, what was instilled for their beliefs,” Steve said. “What was taught at the school was taking their identity away from them.”
Steve is an enrolled Rosebud Sioux member, while Joseph is an enrolled Santee Sioux member. They met Thursday night with family from both tribes, but the brothers decided to focus their energy on the Santee memorial and not attend the Rosebud ceremony and burials.
The brothers agreed on the positive aspect, including media coverage, of greater public awareness on the history of boarding schools and the need for repatriating Native American remains to their homelands.
“The truth is coming out and people understand what happened,” Steve said.
For Joseph, the news reports and repatriations confirm what he has heard for years from others.
“Growing up, I heard stories of how these boarding schools came and took our children away, to have them forget about their culture and their language, of people cutting (the children’s) hair,” he said. “It’s good that it’s coming out and we’re learning more about all of this.”
At Friday’s honoring ceremony, audience members told the Press & Dakotan that the Carlisle story reminds them of their own negative experiences with boarding schools.
Shania RedOwl of Santee attended the honoring ceremony with her 16-month-old daughter. For RedOwl, the event was important for both of them, even if the youngster won’t likely remember the moment.
“For our ancestors, today represents part of their history,” she said.
RedOwl wasn’t surprised at the large turnout at the ceremony.
“When you look at our history, we all come together when we need each other,” she said. “I had heard about boarding schools growing up, but I never knew the history of them. I feel like, in the months to come, many more residential schools will be found and a lot more bodies will be found.”
Shania RedOwl of Santee attended the honoring ceremony with her mother and brother, Roxanne Whipple and Daniel RedOwl.
Whipple, also of Santee, noted the baskets, posters and other items her family created as a memorial for the nine children. In particular, the returning children from Carlisle made her think of her own granddaughter.
“It hit close to home when you think about all the little kids who lost their lives (in boarding schools),” Whipple said. “From what I heard, they might find a lot more. They might investigate.”
Vietta Swalley of Santee believes things happened during the past at boarding schools that wouldn’t happen now. Friday’s ceremony sent a strong message about remembering those who died or suffered in boarding schools, she said.
“We are telling these children, you are not forgotten,” she said.
Pat Grant, a Santee Sioux member who lives in Yankton, said the ongoing discoveries about boarding schools and Friday’s procession with the coffins made for a difficult experience.
“It left me with a lot of different emotions, especially when I think about what the kids went through (at the schools). I feel anger, sadness and a lot of other emotions,” she said.
Grant arrived at the Ohiya Casino with her 2-year-old granddaughter Sunshine Carda at 7:30 a.m., three hours ahead of the schedule arrival of the procession.
“What made we want to come, through hell or high water, was something deep down inside of me after reading the stories about these children,” she said.
“I just want (the nine children) to know they’re not forgotten. They’re going to be back with their relatives now, and I’m hoping and praying that other children are able to return home and be with their relatives.”
The U.S. Army has stated the nine children were buried in what is now known as the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery. The children’s names were printed in an April 2 notice in the Federal Register:
• Lucy Take the Tail (Pretty Eagle)
• Rose Long Face (Little Hawk)
• Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder)
• Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk)
• Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear)
• Friend Hollow Horn Bear
• Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt)
• Alvan (Kills Seven Horses)
• Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull)
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