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Carlisle Indian Industrial School forced Native American children to assimilate

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Now to StoryCorps. Growing up as part of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin, Kirby Metoxen heard stories about his grandparents being sent to a boarding school in Pennsylvania. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was one of hundreds of schools with forced assimilation programs designed to strip Native children of their culture. Parents who resisted could be imprisoned.

In 2017, Kirby visited the old school, now an Army base. He remembered that day with his friend, Father Rodger Patience.

KIRBY METOXEN: As we went through the gates, we asked, what remnants are left of the boarding school? They said, the cemetery. So as we were walking through, I'm seeing the headstones of the children that passed here, imagining a child far from home, not knowing where they are, getting sick, wanting their mom and dad but being alone. If that was me, I'd - I wouldn't want to be alone. And I thought, if I can get these kids home, that's all I would need.

RODGER PATIENCE: Yeah. How long did the process take?

METOXEN: Two years, three years, at least - and I remember, we had been invited to come into the tent and view the remains. Part of me wanted to run the other way. But I thought, out of respect for them children, I will come in. I recall taking a breath and then the emotions coming out like it was my own child. You know, we were able to track down family members of the children. But there's one orphan, Ophelia Powless. And I said, you know, my grandmother was a Powless, so I will be claiming Ophelia as a relative.

PATIENCE: How do you feel after bringing them home?

METOXEN: I drive by our church, and I can see the headstone of Ophelia almost every day. It will probably be one of my proudest accomplishments in this lifetime.

MARTINEZ: That was Kirby Metoxen with Father Rodger Patience at StoryCorps. There are hundreds of graves at the Carlisle boarding school. Six of them belong to the families from the Oneida Nation. All are expected to return home. The U.S. Interior Department is investigating the abuse of Indigenous children at boarding schools. This conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "THE TEMPERATURE OF THE AIR ON THE BOW OF THE KALEETAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.