Carlisle Indian School Descendants Fight to Preserve Part of Painful History
The last building where Native American students lived and attended classes at the Carlisle Indian School (CIS) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania is slated for demolition in late August or September, but one Native activist is trying to save the building and its history from the wrecking ball.
Dr. Louellyn White, Mohawk, is an assistant professor of first peoples studies at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec and the spokesperson for the CIS Descendants, Relatives and Friends.
White has described the famous school as, "the first all Indian boarding school in the U.S. where thousands of Native children were sent to be civilized." The farmhouse and the CIS cemetery are now located on the grounds of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.
Many descendants of CIS students, including White, whose grandfather, great aunt and great uncle all attended the school, have been mobilizing to halt the destruction of this part of their history.
She has been circulating a petition urging the U.S. Army to refrain from razing the farmhouse, and allowing supporters to raise funds for restoring and preserving a piece of U.S. and Native American history.
According to press statements issued in 2011, the Army had decided to demolish the 160-year old house to make way for new residential homes on the post after it was denied entry into the National Register of Historic Places. That rejection originally came in 1985 when, as noted by former farmhouse resident Carolyn Thoman, the architectural reviewers said the building had "unknown historical significance."
But for White and many other descendants, the significance of the farmhouse is well known, painfully so.
"This justification has not been revised or revisited," White stated, "despite extensive historical research that identifies the farmhouse as a location for student housing and classes and its numerous inclusions in various school publications."
While state officials denied the school a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, White said it does have National Historic Landmark status, which is granted by the Secretary of the Interior, and is a separate category, but this does not include the farmhouse. She also said this recent conflict with the Army is nothing new.
"This is not the first time tensions between the historical significance and the exigent needs of the U.S. Army War College have resulted in a devastating loss for descendants," White said. "Most notably, moving original graves of the 186 students to a new cemetery to make way for an entrance road.
"The farmhouse not only represents the forced assimilation of Native children into mainstream Euro-American culture, but it also stands as a place of memory for the descendants of those who endured the stripping away of their culture.
"Once the building is torn down, it erases the memory of the CIS students and it becomes easy for the public to forget the legacies that boarding/residential schools left behind for Native peoples."
The U.S. Army War Barracks Office of Public Affairs did not respond to requests for comment and neither White nor her allies have received any further communications from the U.S. Army in response to their petition and request.
She pointed out that they have also notified the Army about an upcoming conference relating to CIS.
CIS descendants have asked that the Army postpone the demolition until after the national symposium titled, Carlisle, PA: Site of Indigenous Histories, Memories and Reclamations scheduled for October 5 to 6, “in order to give descendants and relatives a chance to visit the structure and have their objections heard," White said.