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Caravan bringing home remains of Rosebud Sioux children to stop in Sioux City
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Caravan bringing home remains of Rosebud Sioux children to stop in Sioux City

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Indigenous children's remains turned over from Army cemetery

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland meets with young people from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota after a ceremony at the U.S. Army's Carlisle Barracks, in Carlisle, Pa. The disinterred remains of nine Native American children who died more than a century ago while attending a government-run school in Pennsylvania were headed home to Rosebud Sioux tribal lands in South Dakota on Wednesday after a ceremony returning them to relatives. The caravan will stop in Sioux City Thursday night for a ceremony and leave early the next morning.

SIOUX CITY -- A caravan bringing home the remains of nine Rosebud Sioux children, who died at a Pennsylvania boarding school more than a century ago, will stop in Sioux City Thursday.

Ten Native American children -- nine from the South Dakota tribe and one from the Alaskan Aleut Tribe -- were recently disinterred from a cemetery on the grounds of the Carlisle Barracks, which also houses the U.S. Army War College. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which is also known as Sicangu Lakota, spent several years negotiating the repatriation of the children's remains. 

The cemetery contains more than 180 graves of students who attended the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School — a government-run boarding school for Native American children. This is the Army's fourth disinterment project at the school in as many years.

"With the recent unearthing of our Native children's bodies at boarding schools, this has been hard and emotional for all First Nations in the U.S. and Canada," said Trisha Etringer, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

Etringer is involved in organizing a community meal/prayer service at 8 p.m. Thursday at War Eagle Park in Sioux City. She said a fire will be lit at the park for anyone who wants to pay their respects before 8 p.m.

The Sicangu relatives will depart from the Tyson Events Center parking lot at 8 a.m. Friday. The Winnebago Tribe will provide refreshments beforehand, beginning at 7 a.m. A morning prayer will follow at 7:30 a.m. Sioux City Police officers will escort the relatives into and out of the city, according to Etringer. 

Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which was founded by an Army officer, opened in 1879 and housed some 10,000 Indigenous children before it shut down in 1918. Students were forced to cut their braids, dress in uniforms, speak English and adopt European names. Infectious disease and harsh conditions claimed the lives of many of the children buried there.

The Army is fully funding the cost of the project — about $500,000 per year, including travel to the transfer ceremony, as well as transport and reburial of the deceased children.

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"The Army's commitment remains steadfast to these nine Native American families and one Alaskan Native family. Our objective is to reunite the families with their children in a manner of utmost dignity and respect," Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, said in a statement issued last month. 

Since 2016, dozens of Native American and Alaskan Native families have requested that their ancestors be returned from Carlisle. The Rosebud Sioux Tribe's youth council members encouraged the tribal council to seek the return of the children's remains after a visit to the Carlisle grounds in 2015. 

The children's English names, and where available their Native Americans names, were: Dennis Strikes First (Blue Tomahawk), Rose Long Face (Little Hawk), Lucy Take The Tail (Pretty Eagle), Warren Painter (Bear Paints Dirt), Ernest Knocks Off (White Thunder), Maud Little Girl (Swift Bear), Friend Hollow Horn Bear, Dora Her Pipe (Brave Bull) and Alvan — also known as Roaster, Kills Seven Horses and One That Kills Seven Horses; and Sophia Tetoff of the Alaskan Aleut tribe on Saint Paul Island in the Bering Sea.

The Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center archives at Dickinson College include newspaper clippings detailing the deaths of some students or identification cards with name, tribal affiliation, date of arrival and date of departure, with the reason for the latter often listed as "death," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Dennis Strikes First arrived Oct. 6, 1879, and died Jan. 19, 1887, of typhoid pneumonia. A news item indicates that he was the son of Blue Tomahawk of Rosebud Agency, Dakota, and calls him a "bright, studious, ambitious boy, standing first in his class, and of so tractable a disposition as to be no trouble to his teachers."

Another clipping detailed the Dec. 14, 1880, deaths of Ernest Knocks Off and Maud Little Girl, describing it as a "sad and mysterious coincidence." Ernest was sent to the hospital in October to receive treatment for a sore throat, but he wouldn't agree to take any medicine, leaving him "weak and exhausted." Maud Little Girl was said to have died of pneumonia and was called a "bright, impulsive, warm-hearted girl, much beloved by her school mates."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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