- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A small group of people are working with the U.S. Army to bring home the remains of 15 Alaska Natives who attended a boarding school in Pennsylvania more than a century ago.

The Carlisle Industrial Indian School was founded in 1879 by Richard Henry Pratt. The Army officer created the military-style school on the belief that Native Americans needed to be “civilized” and that the federal government was holding them back by segregating them. Its goal was to assimilate Native Americans into the European-American culture, KTOO-FM reported (http://bit.ly/2eiJcUj).

A resolution to bring back the Carlisle students’ remains was expected to be presented Saturday at this year’s annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks.

Bob Sam, one of the people working on the project, said the Army will cover the costs associated with the repatriation and that the process should take less than a year. “This is just the tip of the iceberg, . Carlisle school is just the beginning,” Sam said.

Jim LaBelle Sr., who is helping Sam, was once a boarding school student at the Wrangell Institute. He described the 10 years he spent at the southeast Alaska boarding school as traumatic.

“In the days when I went, we had no choice. If you protested or objected, parents were sent to jail,” LaBelle said.

LaBelle thinks there will be more pressure to consolidate schools in Alaska and increase support for residential schools in the future.

“Should this happen, there needs to be a process where communities and families participate at all levels of this discussion,” LaBelle said. “If there is eventually going to be a return to boarding schools in some parts of Alaska, at least it will be done in the way that respects the culture, respects the language, doesn’t provide for an institutional setting.”

The Carlisle Industrial Indian School operated until 1918 and had more than 10,000 students over the course of nearly 40 years. English was the only language allowed to be spoken at the school, and the Native American students were forced to change their names and cut their hair.

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This story has been corrected to restore original wording that the resolution to be presented on Saturday, and not Friday as the previous correction erroneously said.

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Information from: KTOO-FM, http://www.ktoo.org

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