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After More Than A Century Oneida Students Are Coming Home

Posted on Jun 25, 2019 by
General News

(Oneida Reservation) ~ The United States Army National Military Cemeteries and the US Army Corps of Engineers in coordination with the Carlisle Army Barracks, site of the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, are returning the remains of Oneida students who attended the school and died there between 1893 and 1904.

During the week of June 15-22, Henry (Hank) Huff, Helen Huff, Julie Thomas, Lisa Huff, and Violet Blake, along with Oneida Councilman Kirby Metoxen and his legislative assistant Rosa Laster, traveled to Pennsylvania to bring home the remains of three Oneida students who died and were buried so far from home: Jemima Metoxen (age 16), Ophelia Powless (age 16), and Sophia Caulon (age 18).

Each body was carefully disinterred, and a team of forensic anthropologists led by Dr. Michael Trimble and Dr. Elizabeth DiGangi analyzed the remains, reporting their findings to the families. On Friday, June 21, the remains were wrapped and placed in new caskets following prayers offered by Oneida cultural advisor Sonny Hill and Church of the Holy Apostles vicar Fr. Rodger Patience. The executive director of the Army National Military Cemeteries, Karen Durham-Aguilera, presided over a ceremony on Saturday, June 22 to transfer the care of the children back to the families and to begin their transport to Wisconsin.

The Oneida Nation has reclaimed the remains of these students to be re-interred. There will be an honor song for the children at the 47th Annual Oneida Pow-Wow on Friday, June 28 at about 7:30 pm, following the Grand Entry and the veterans’ song. The burial ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, June 30 at 10:30 am at Church of the Holy Apostles. The ceremony will be followed by two burials (Jemima Metoxen and Sophia Caulon) at the Oneida Sacred Burial Grounds and one (Ophelia Powless) at the Holy Apostles Cemetery. There will also be a feast at the Parish Hall immediately following the service.

Oneida Councilman Kirby Metoxen commented, “This week brings many mixed emotions. We are happy that we can bring our family members home so their spirits can rest in peace with their families, but we are also quite saddened by the fact that these are only a few of the many of our ancestors who have not been laid to rest in their homeland with their families. This remains an unsettling era in our history when children, some as young as three years old, were taken from their parents in attempts to assimilate them and eventually take away their language, their culture, and their souls.”

Many Native Americans were either sent by families or forced to go to military-style boarding schools in an era of assimilation. The Oneida Nation has a history of boarding school assimilation much like other Tribes in the United States and Canada. More than 10,000 Indigenous children attended Carlisle Indian Industrial School between 1879 and 1918. The Army National Military Cemeteries are paying the expenses for nine individuals who made the trip from Oneida to bring their ancestors home for burial.

After extensive research done by the Oneida Cultural Heritage and the Oneida Enrollments Departments, 109 community members were identified as descendants of Oneida tribal members who passed away while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania over one hundred years ago. Today three of them are coming home.