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"This was special": Remains of Native American students returned to families

Written by Rachel McDevitt | Jun 27, 2018 7:47 AM
Carlisle_Barracks_Cemetery.jpg

This cemetery on the grounds of Carlisle Barracks holds the remains of students from the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School. (Photo: Scott Finger/U.S. Army War College Photo Lab)

(Carlisle) -- The U.S. Army has returned the remains of three students who died while attending the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Cumberland County to their surviving family members.

The team assembled by Army National Military Cemeteries said it's confident it located Little Plume, of the Northern Arapaho; George Ell, of the Blackfeet Nation; and Herbert Little Hawk, of the Oglala Sioux.

The disinterment of a fourth student, Her Pipe Woman of the Standing Rock Sioux, was postponed at the request of the family.

Officials tried to return Little Plume last year, but -- as they later learned -- the grave marked with the ten-year-old boy's name contained teenage remains.

Additional archival documents considered by the team led it to Little Plume's correct resting place this year. 

The cemetery was moved from its original location to its current one in 1927. Team members said while that transfer was done respectfully, it was not done by experts, which has contributed to the difficulty in confirming remains. 

Elizabeth DiGangi, a forensic anthropologist who analyzed the remains to determine they matched the age and sex of the deceased, said finding the correct remains lifted a weight off the shoulders of all involved.

"We've spent the past year, all of us on the team, wondering, hoping that we could provide resolution for the family," DiGangi said. "And it was personally a very powerful feeling to be able to do that this year."

The exhumations were done by hand over ten days at the cemetery, which now sits on the site of the Carlisle Barracks. 

Michael Trimble, an archeologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who directed the team that exhumed and analyzed the remains, said he would stop at points to bring the families into the process.

"I would talk to them and bring them over and show them what we're doing, and we wouldn't do any more excavation until we'd answered all their questions, " Trimble said. "I don't think I've ever done that before, to be honest, but this was special."

Officials said each family had different customs and beliefs about receiving the remains, which were not detailed at the request of the families. 

The students died in the 1880s and 90s while attending the school, which aimed to strip Native American children of their culture and traditions in favor of European-American culture.

Hundreds died due to disease and harsh conditions before the school closed in 1918.

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