After 144 years, bringing home remains from a residential school – #podcast



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When they arrived and and started breaking ground on the two graves that um were being disinterred the rain started falling and it didn’t stop Willow Fiddler is a national reporter for the globe it rained all day and all night and one of the comments from uh someone who was there was that

It was the tears of the mothers of those two boys 144 years of those mother’s tears were finally coming down on this day that those two boys were being rightfully returned to their to their tribes and traditional burial spots these two boys died at North America’s first federally run

Residential school and this fall Willow went to South Dakota to talk to the people who spent 6 years working to bring home their remains these two boys who died at that school where they never should have died were were finally being brought home for for that uh traditional Sue Dakota burial

That they were entitled to this kind of repatriation of remains from schools is part of the work indigenous communities are doing to process what happened at these schools and to try to heal so today Willow tells us who these boys were What it Took to bring them home and how communities in North

America are trying to heal from the legacy of residential schools I’m Mana caraman Wilms and this is the deciel from the globe in mail Willow thank you so much for being here today thanks for having me we talked about the the two boys off the top but who were these

Boys Amos LEF rambos and Edward upright were two young boys 12 and 13 years old from the ctin wapen oate tribe in South Dakota Edward comes from the Spirit Lake tribe today they’re two separate tribes but back then they would have kind of been among the same tribe and so they

They were the sense of two highly respected Sue leaders at the time and they were among the first group of students who would have traveled to Carlile Pennsylvania uh when that school first opened in 1879 okay so they were from South Dakota they ended up in Pennsylvania because

They went to they went to this school then car carile as you said what do we know about this school this school would have been you know among the first federally run Indian industrial schools that opened in in the states previous to that there were other schools that were being operated you

Know on reserve and different locations this one was kind of the first one though it was it was founded by a military guy by the name of Richard Pratt who has become a notorious historic figure in the states and he founded the school based on his beliefs that

Education was the key to assimilating young Indian children into what they consider to be a civilized society so he uh was able to get the support of uh the federal government the department of interior so this was 1879 the Student Records for Amos and Edward who were the first ones

There I think the date on there says November 3rd or 6 1879 so that’s when they would have first enlisted I had read just recently that you know the minimum age was 14 but that may have have been changed afterwards because we know that Amos and Edward were 12 and 13

And you mentioned it was this school was founded by Richard Pratt this military guy he had a a famous saying when he was establishing these institutions what was that saying yeah he was Notorious for his phrase to kill the Indian and save the man this ideology of this aggressive

Assimilation policy that we saw in the states and of course it was a mirrored right back here in Canada so we know that the saying kill the Indian save the man was later adapted here in Canada to Kill The Indian in the child which is of

Course a a very widely and commonly used phrase used by survivors experts and a lot of people across the country here in Canada to describe the residential school policy and system here and it’s intent the other thing I wanted to point out was in 1879 prime minister John a McDonald

Commissioned Nicholas Davin to conduct a feasibility study on the American boarding school system and that included Carlile and it was through that Davin report that it was recommended that Canada follow suit and contract churches out to run these schools aimed at separ ating the children from their families

And making sure that they were in a residential school as opposed to a day boarding school for example they already knew back then that it was going to be a lot easier to indoctrinate and assimilate young Indian children if they had absolutely no contact or connection to their parents and families and home

Communities so which is why we have the residential school system where all of these young indigenous children were forced to live wow I guess I I wonder too if we’re we’re comparing the two countries Willow what is the conversation in the US look like when when we’re talking about the Reckoning

Of the history of these schools it’s a little bit different there’s some things I feel that they’re more advanced on for example we have yet to do any repatriation work of identifying any human remains and then returning them to their uh home communities um that hasn’t happened yet here in Canada that’s

Happened several times in the United States where tribes are doing that work on their own and I think that’s kind of what the other difference is that a lot of these tribes are doing this work without you know any initiative from the federal government it was just last year

In 2022 that the department of interior released its first report on its initial findings of its boarding schools think Canada’s TRC so if we go back to 2007 to the TRC and all of the work that the TRC did in terms of hearing the stories and experiences of the survivors finding all

The documents the number of schools the number of children all of that that is just being started now in the states through the the department of interior and it’s Deb Holland who’s the Secretary of that and she’s a Native American herself but it was cam loops um in 2021

That kind of lit a fire under people there I think and and with the repatriation of these two boys it ALS so kind of just reaffirm for them that this was extremely important healing work that they needed to do the narrative for boarding schools and its

Impacts is not known to the extent in magnitude that it is here in Canada I visited a Museum close to ctin wapen oate tribe in South Dakota Wala was there and they have an exhibition on on one of the residential schools that was running there and I actually think it’s

Still being operated by one of the local tribes but it’s very very much framed as being this positive experience that was meant to provide you know positive learning experience and teaching all of these important life skills to you know to all these indigenous children there and I was very disturbed by it actually

Because there there is yet to be any of that Reckoning in terms of um a realization that oh my gosh this assimilation policy is responsible for a lot of damage and destruction to these tribes and their cultures and their way of life that has that’s not um happening

Yet at the level that it has here in Canada So you you’re actually seeing a couple of different things here so in one way the US is could be seen as kind of ahead of Canada in terms of the repatriation of children’s bodies coming back to community ities but at the same

Time the the conversation and the understanding of of what these schools did and their purpose is is not at the same level that it is in the states as it is in Canada right Tamara St John you know she speaks about she’s a state legislature so she when she’s with

Different colleagues or whoever she tries to Enlighten them with all of this and and and making those connections between the state of their tribes and communities in which is very much like here in Canada in terms of high disproportionate rates of suicide addictions incarceration all of that nasty stuff

Are directly connected to the experiences and abuses and traumas of those boarding school survivors and their families through intergenerational traumas we’ll be right back let’s come back to these these two boys that we began with Willow um they died over over a hundred years ago at this

School I guess how did people know about these boys and where they were buried uh well it’s always been known the Carl school was on an army base most of the deaths I will say were recorded So if you look at the Student Records like Amos and Edward’s Death you know

Kind of it’s It’s recorded what their their date of deaths were the interesting thing about ‘s burial first burial he was buried at a local cemetery and it turns out that that Cemetery was for white people only and there’s records with letters asking whether he can be buried there or

Not and the response was well it’s White’s only there’s no legal authorization for him to be there he was so then he had to be moves okay so that catches us up to the present day uh Willow who was behind this initiative to bring the boys home and and how did they

Get involved so it started in 2016 When the Northern Arapaho tribe approached the Army wanting to repatriate children that they had buried there in Carlile so that kind of opened the door for the Army to say yeah we’ve got these children here if there are tribes that

Want to uh repatriate we will work with them in order to do so and just to be clear this is cuz the Army owns that land then where the boys are buried right so this was like the Army Barracks Cemetery so after the northern arapo did the first repatriation in 2016 that kind

Of opened it up for them Tamra St John and her colleague Diane de roier who is the tribal historic preservation officer for the ctin wtin oate started doing the work uh they knew Amos and Edward were there but they did run into some challenges and and this was kind of why

It took them six years so you know if a tribe was to go to the Army and say we want to repatriate there would be like a super easy process to do that if it was just going by the Army process right they would have their own transfer

Ceremony they would exume the bodies and then kind of hand them over how however they would and and that’s that but for these tribes it can’t be that simple because they have their cultural customs and protocols when it comes to burials and distur and all of that and so that

Was what they were pushing and it took them six years to come up with the agreement that would allow them to conduct all of their tribal ceremonies and Customs that are used in these circumstances for deaths and burials and disinterment and they eventually were able to get the Army’s full agreement

And cooperation in in doing so was there some disagreement at all about the the way that the the bodies were being released to the tribes because I think there was there was something there as well that was a bit of a sticking point so the Army was saying you know we have

Our own regulations on how we do this on how we return bodies or repatriate and and that involves uh identifying a NEX of kin or the closest living relative for whoever the deceased is okay what the trib’s problem with this was that uh one it can be difficult

To identify who that may be especially in this case where these boys died at being boys and you know wouldn’t for example have any Offspring or anything like that the other part of it that they were arguing was that as tribes they had the right to repatriate the remains

Under the Native American Graves and repatriation protection act which allows specifically tribes to do that work as a whole so as opposed to putting all of this work which is a lot of work I mean physically emotionally spiritually mentally uh it’s a huge burden to place onto one single family member and that

Was what the trib’s problem was is we’re not going to do that to one of our people that’s just too much we need to do this as a tribe we need to do this as a collective that these are our boys and they deserve this and it

Has to involve a lot of people so once everything was finally agreed upon Willow what what was that process like to to exume the remains and bring those boys home yeah so I mean once the agreement was signed everything happened super fast um you know they were on the

Road to Pennsylvania like within a day so there was four passenger vans that went down from South Dakota OTA and involved the kitfox society which is a group of men from the tribes and the Buffalo heart women which is a group of the women from the tribes and they and

They carry out kind of sacred and traditional roles uh specific to these kinds of events and all of this happening with the Army’s participation too right which is really fascinating because to think about them going there and being met by some Army official ma or somebody who’s like helping them plot

Out where they could set up their sweat lodge which is an important part of their ceremonies and what they have to do and then you know when it got time to to digging the the tribes people you know first broke ground and then when the bodies were exuded it was it was the

Buffalo heart women who had the responsibility of actually carrying those remains and uh carrying them into the tents where they would be then analyzed by the Army’s forensic team they had forensic experts from the tribes as well included and observing and and helping to do that work and then

Just having the the men of the the Kit Fox Society watching kind of watching over watching G as all of this work was being done just making sure that it’s being done with as much love and care and respect as as possible because that’s what these boys deserve and all

Of this again happening in the pouring rain like it poured all day and all night and providing kind of that cleansing too at the same time um the cleansing of Tears the cleansing of all of the hurt and that you know they were able to do this in a good way

And then how did they bring the boys remains back back to the communities the actual remains would have been placed in in red cloth and then into a pine box and then the pine box placed on a buffalo robe so a buffalo robe for each

Of the boys and then taken into the uh the passenger vans where the Caravan uh from the tribes then traveled back to Pennsylvania over 2 miles and once they got closer to the repatriation grounds near citin um they had a horse and carriage meet them at the place that they believe

The boys would have left from to go to Carlile wow and the boys probably would have been on horse and carriage leaving so they were picked up by this horse and carriage and taken down to the repatriation grounds which is traveling down down these uh Dusty gravel roads you know and

Followed by all of the tribes people that were there to uh to support them all so they were taken to the repatriation grounds the tribe had to established those repatriation grounds in 1991 when they uh repatriated remains from the Smithsonian Institute so they’ve had those grounds there for a

While and conducted the full Dakotas Sue traditional ceremony there were seven fully erected te waiting for them at the at the repatriation grounds the traditional Dakota burial is uh four nights they had spent the one night on the road so uh for the next three nights the boys were placed upon scaffolding

With their buffalo robes and that’s where they lay for three nights there until they were buried in the ground beside each other I know we are having conversations in this country about the remains of children found at the sites of residential schools um I guess where are

We in Canada Willow when it comes to this process of potentially returning those those bodies to communities yeah super sensitive um but there is a lot of that work going on of course since uh since Cam Loops in 2021 several groups across the country that are now doing that work but that is

A big question right what do you do when you find remains do you leave them there undisturbed or or do you bring them back home to where they really belong there are going to be a lot of different feelings around that a lot of different beliefs around that because not all

Nations here in Canada are the same each Nation even families those beliefs uh vary so it needs to be handled with extreme care um it needs to be you know led by the survivors uh which I see is happening and I expect you know in the coming years we’re going to see what

That will look like for us just lastly here Willow I I’d like to to come back to Amos and Edwards I mean what does it mean for for these tribes to be able to bring those boys home it means a lot of healing because there hasn’t been that Reckoning yet with with

Them in the states survivors know what it was like and survivors will share with their families and their people of what it was like for them but even for like Tamara and Diane like Tamara is a daughter of a resid a porting school survivor and um and I

Think Diane is as well but even speaking with them when I went to visit with them the week after they repatriated the boys um and sitting with them for well over an hour you could just see how raw this was for them still like it’s it’s a traumatizing experience like

It’s to to think about holding bones of a child and then you connect that with that it happened because of this Mass Federal effort to kill the Indian and the child is just devastating and heartbreaking and it’s going to take time for them to process that and to

Heal from it but that’s what it’s for it is it’s for the healing and it’s such hard work but for intergenerational survivors like Tamara she knows that it’s up to them to do that work there is no one else that’s going to do it so

It’s a it’s a lot of healing a lot of healing Willow thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today my pleasure thanks for having Me if you’ve been listening to the in her defense podcast I want to let you know that you can join the host Janna Pruden and producer casha mahovich for a Reddit ask me anything today Friday on the True Crimes podcast subreddit or you can go to tgam defense that’s happening at

1: p.m. Eastern today that’s it for today I’m man ramman will mik Stein produced this episode our producers are mine white Cheryl southernland and Rachel Ley mlin David Crosby edits the show Adrien CH is our senior producer and Angela Penza is our executive editor thanks so much for

Listening and I’ll talk to you next week

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania was the first government-run residential school in North America. Earlier this fall, the remains of two boys, who died there more than a century ago, were returned to their tribes in South Dakota, over 2,000 kilometres away. It’s a process that took six years — and has only begun the healing and closure to the people who were part of it.

Willow Fiddler, a national reporter for the Globe, visited those tribes to find out what it took to bring their boys home. She’s on The Decibel to talk about how the United States is reckoning with its history of boarding schools, and where Canada stands when it comes to repatriating the remains of Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

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