CARLISLE, Pa. - A group of American Indians have come every Memorial Day weekend since 1973 to the cemetery of the old Carlisle Indian Industrial School. A vigil of sorts, they have come over the decades when others lived too far away and others had simply forgotten. They come to honor the students who died while attending school there and to decorate their graves.
The practice was originally started by the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C. and carried on the last three years by Circle Legacy. Circle Legacy Executive Director Sandra Chipps Cianciulli, an Oglala Lakota, is a descendant of two of the first students to attend the school in 1879. Cianciulli said, "These children are buried a long way from family and need to be recognized. My ancestors lived, but what if they hadn't? I would want someone to put a flower on their grave and remember them. It's especially important for us as descendants to remember the legacy. It has become a sacred thing."
About 50 people attended this year. The cemetery has become a lasting symbol of the assimilation effort initiated by the United State government at Carlisle and later at other boarding schools, and the harm and destruction it caused to native cultures. Alice Myers-Hall of Woodbridge, Va., is a descendant of Carlisle students, and was visiting the cemetery for the first time. "When I see the graves it evokes a sadness. They were stripped of culture and lost their identity. They were just children, but they are not forgotten."