‘To bring them home like the Chiefs that they are’: Returning more children from Carlisle Indian School

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Native American boarding schools are a dark piece of history for the United States. One of the first was the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where almost 200 children died from 1879 to 1919. Some of those children have ties to South Dakota.

This past July, the remains of nine Native American children who died at the Carlisle Indian School were brought back home to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Now, a South Dakota legislator and historian is working to bring home more children to the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate and Spirit Lake Nation.

“It’s with the understanding that we are here because of them,” Tamara St. John, tribal historian for Sisseton Wahpeton Oytae said. “We’re here because of their prayers, their will to survive their struggle to, you know, ensure that we have life.”

Left to right: Nancy Renville, Emily Justine LaFramboise, Edward Upwright, John Renville, George Walker at Carlisle Indian School in 1879. Not pictured: Amos LaFramboise. Photo courtesy of Tamara St. John.

The children in this photo, and one who isn’t pictured, were the first to leave the Sisseton area and go to the Carlisle Indian School in 1879. More than a century later, two of those six children are still in Pennsylvania.

Amos LaFramboise died 20 days after arriving at Carlisle. He was the first to die at the school. His sister, Emily Justine LaFramboise was able to later return home to the Lake Traverse Reservation.

“Who is the son of Mr. Joseph LaFramboise who is one of our, and to use a description I think the rest of the world might understand, one of our founding fathers,” St. John said.

Edward Upwright is the other child St. John wants to bring home. He was the son of a Spirit Lake Nation Chief.

“The idea that this traditional Chief Waanataan Nupa, which in our language means two, he was the second, this is his boy,” St. John said.

John and Nancy Renville were the children of former Sisseton Wahpeton Chief Gabriel Renville. John Renville also died at Carlisle Indian School. However, his father was able to go there and bring his remains home. At that time, he took Nancy home as well.

“It says that his sister was doting over him, his little sister, by his side and that he had a far away look in his eye as he’s talking, speaking, calmly to his sister,” St. John said. “And I can only imagine he’s taking care of his sister as, we would say, making his journey. What a loving, powerful thing to do.”

Amos LaFramboise, John Renville and Edward Upwright each died from illnesses obtained at the school.

“There is also the search or concern for any physical abuse and I won’t at all downplay that understanding amongst our people because associated with our boarding schools was a great deal of violence,” St. John said.

George Walker was the last boy of the group at Carlisle. He was able to leave Carlisle Indian School and make it home to the Lake Traverse Reservation. Shortly there after, he passed away. All four boys were gone by 1881. George Walker is believed to be an orphan.

“He has written letters and it’s clear to me through his letters that he hopes to go home,” St. John said. “He wants to go home. I would even venture to say that he is lonely.”

With the familial ties that both Amos LaFramboise and Edward Upwright have, it’s important their remains are returned home.

“To bring them home like the Chiefs that they are,” St. John said. “You know, these young men, they were that hope for our next generation, you know, and we need to bring them home with honor.”

And St. John is confident they will do just that.

“There is nothing, that I see, that will stop us from making sure that we have those things ready,” St. John said. “It’s all rolling now, there’s no turning back.”

The hope is to bring Amos LaFramboise and Edward Upwright back home next summer.

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