With Carlisle’s history relation to Native American history, most prominently in the creation of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, it is shocking how few people know this area’s dark history with indigenous people. The new PBS Independent Lens documentary, Home from School: The Children of Carlisle, is a step in bringing light onto the Native American history that is often undiscussed. The documentary discusses the history of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where Native American children were sent to be stripped of their cultures and assimilated into American culture. The documentary follows the Arapaho tribe’s journey to Carlisle to retrieve the remains of some of their children who died at the school.
The documentary begins with information about the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Carlisle Indian Industrial School was founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt. The school forced Native American children to take the names of American soldiers, and Native American children were also prevented from using their native languages. 238 Native American children from the ages of nine months to late twenties died as a result of the harsh conditions at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The children from Arapaho tribe who died were Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume. The documentary shifts to examine the Arapaho’s first attempts to retrieve the remains of children who died at the school and did not receive their proper tribal burials. The US Army (who owns the US Army College where the Indian School once stood) rejected initial requests to return the remains because the army thought that they were paying well enough respects. The statute of limitations posed additional challenges for the Arapaho tribe. Finally, in 2017, a delegation of the Arapaho tribe came to Carlisle to retrieve the remains of two of their children, although they could not retrieve the remains of their third child until a year later.
The Arapaho’s reclamation of their family’s remains prompted other Native American tribes to begin the retrieval process for many of their relatives whose remains are still in Carlisle. The US Army continues to facilitate repatriation of the remains of other Native American children. According to the documentary, in 2021, the US Department of Interior announced an initiative to review the legacy of Native American boarding schools.
On Nov 18, the film premiered at the Carlisle Theatre. Organized by WITF, the Cumberland County Historical Society, and Dickinson, this premiere ended with a panel discussion that included Geoff O’Gara, who produced, wrote, and directed the documentary. Home from School is available to stream on PBS’ website and does a phenomenal job at showing the emotion and communal trauma caused by the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. As one person said in the documentary, “they are so much more than just graves and human remains. They are our history and our heritage,” and they should be respected as such.