Home From School

Native Americans set out to recover the remains of children who died at an Indian boarding school.

  • Fred Vigeant
Watch Home From School Tuesday, November 23 at 9pm on WITF. You can stream WITF TV live on our website and through the PBS Video app on Roku, Apple TV and iPhone and Android smartphones.

In the late 19th century, tens of thousands of Native American children were removed from their families and tribal homelands to boarding schools where they were stripped of their languages, traditions, and culture, in the name of assimilation. It is a painful era for Indigenous peoples across the country not often covered in U.S. history books, but comes to light.

Home From School: The Children of Carlisle dives into the history of Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the first off-reservation government-funded boarding school for Native American children. The film chronicles the modern-day journey of Northern Arapaho tribal members seeking to recover the remains of Arapaho children more than 100 years after they fell mortally ill and were buried on the school grounds. That cemetery is now located on land owned by the U.S. Army War College. The driving force behind the repatriation efforts is Yufna Soldier Wolf, great-granddaughter of Sharp Nose, the last War Chief of the Northern Arapaho. One of Sharp Nose’s sons, a great uncle to Yufna Soldierwolf, died at Carlisle in 1883.

The film follows Northern Arapaho tribal members—elders and teenagers—as they travel from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming to Pennsylvania to retrieve the remains of three children who died at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the 1880s. During this era at Carlisle, Native American children were stripped of their tribal identities and forced into an English-only, military-style remedial education. Many boarding school students returned to their tribes emotionally scarred and culturally unrooted; their trauma has echoed down the generations. Many other students, however, never returned home, having died at school, often of European-introduced diseases their bodies could not fend off.

Filmmaker Geoffrey O’Gara travels alongside the tribal members as they visit the Carlisle burial site of the children they lost. The efforts of the Northern Arapaho are further stymied during this visit when graves are misidentified, and the wrong remains disturbed. After overcoming decades-long resistance to repatriation by the U.S. Army and enduring an emotional visit to the Carlisle burial site, the Northern Arapaho became the first tribe in the U.S. to successfully return their children’s remains from a U.S. government-run Native American boarding school.

Watch Home From School: The Children of Carlisle on Independent Lens Tuesday, November 23 at 9pm on WITF. The film will also be available on-demand via the PBS Video app.

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