On June 7, 2024, in the U.S. District Court of Virginia case Winnebago v. Department of Army, the  Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska filed its response to the Army’s motion to dismiss the case. In its response, Winnebago argued that the Army’s denial of Winnebago’s request to repatriate the remains of two of its boys, Samuel Gilbert and Edward Hensley, from the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery defies the purpose and plain language of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which ensures the right of Indian Tribes to bring their relatives home in an expeditious and culturally appropriate manner. In their motion, the Army argued that NAGPRA is not applicable to the Native American human remains buried at Carlisle Cemetery and that applying NAGPRA at Carlisle would dishonor the Native American children buried there. Through its lawsuit, Winnebago seeks to repatriate Samuel Gilbert and Edward Hensely and enforce all its rights under NAGPRA to bring Samuel and Edward home from Carlisle Cemetery to finally lay them to rest.

Photo of Carlisle Cemetery with an overlay of archival documents related to the Winnebago children

In 1895, Captain W.H. Beck, United States Army, Indian Agent of the Omaha and Winnebago Indian Agency, sent Samuel and Edward from their home at Winnebago to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The boys died because of their time at Carlisle and Carlisle officials buried both boys at Carlisle instead of notifying their families or Winnebago of their deaths. Both Winnebago and the boys’ families were deprived of the chance to give them proper Winnebago burials. The boys—along with the remains of nearly 200 other students who attended Carlisle—were disinterred in 1927 to make way for an Army parking lot and moved to their current location at the Carlisle Cemetery. This disturbance was, again, done without notification to or consent of the boys’ relatives or Winnebago. Today, Winnebago seeks to bring its boys home with honor and vindicate the basic universal right to bury the remains of its children in accordance with Winnebago cultures and traditions.

“Winnebago has clear rights under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The Tribe has long been an advocate for the law, and it will continue to fight for its rights and to ensure that federal agencies abide by the law,” said Native American Rights Fund Staff Attorney Beth Wright.

The Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska is represented by its General Counsel, Danelle Smith, the Native American Rights Fund, and Cultural Heritage Partners.

Learn more about Winnebago v. Department of Army at: https://narf.org/cases/winnebago-carlisle-nagpra/

NARF represents Winnebago as part of its Boarding School Healing initiative (https://narf.org/cases/boarding-school-healing/), which is made possible by the generosity of the Christensen Fund.

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