"They're Not At Peace": Northern Arapaho Seek To Claim Remains Of Boarding School Students

Dec 15, 2015

Kids at Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania circa 1900
Credit Flickr

Back in 1881, hundreds of Northern Arapaho children were taken from the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming to the Carlisle Boarding School in Pennsylvania to be assimilated into European culture, but many never returned. Now the tribe is applying to reclaim the remains of 41 of the students who died there.

Yufna Soldier Wolf is the director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office. She says she doesn’t expect the process to be easy.

“There have been other tribes that have wanted their children repatriated from that area,” she says. “It’s been a big fight. For some reason, they don’t want to let the children go up there. It’s really about the idea of finally bringing these kids home after 150 years.” 

Soldier Wolf says more than 200 Northern Arapaho students died at the school, many from disease or depression. 

“A lot of them were dying from loneliness. A lot of them would get sick. A lot of them just thought maybe their tribes had given up on them.”

Soldier Wolf says it was hard to narrow down the list of students, only a few of whom listed their names as Arapaho. She says many were given European names as a way to assimilate them.

She says the tribe hopes to have the students returned to Wyoming in the next two years.

“The plan is to rebury them and have them here back with their families. In a way, they still affect our lives today because they’re not at peace.”

Soldier Wolf says her organization has been trying to get the student’s remains back for a traditional Arapaho burial for almost a decade now. She plans to host a meeting for descendants of the students at the NATHPO office at 9 Great Plains Road in the town of Arapahoe on January 8.