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  • Writer's pictureSam Orlando

In Pursuit of Peace: The Winnebago Tribe's Legal Battle to Bring Two Boys Home




Written by: Sam Orlando


A Historic Legal Battle: Winnebago Tribe vs. U.S. Army

STAUNTON, VIRGINIA – In an unprecedented legal showdown, the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska has taken a firm stand against the U.S. Department of the Army and affiliated officials, demanding the repatriation of two ancestral remains from the Carlisle Barracks Post Cemetery in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The lawsuit, invoking the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), represents a pivotal struggle for the rights of indigenous tribes to reclaim their cultural heritage.


Demanding Dignity: The Quest for Ancestral Remains

The dispute centers around the remains of Samuel Gilbert and Edward Hensley, two Winnebago boys who were forcibly taken from their homes in the late 19th century to the Carlisle Indian Industrial Boarding School. Their untimely deaths and subsequent burial without familial consent have left a longstanding scar on the Winnebago community.

Despite formal requests for repatriation under NAGPRA, the Winnebago Tribe's plea has been met with denial by the Army, which has proposed an alternative internal process, critiqued by the tribe for its lack of cultural sensitivity and legal robustness.


A Painful Past: Unearthing the History of Carlisle's Boarding School

The lawsuit sheds light on the harrowing history of the Carlisle school, part of a broader system aimed at eradicating Native American culture through assimilation. The complaint eloquently details the tragic fate of the boys, the insensitive handling of their remains, and the lasting pain felt by the Winnebago community.


NAGPRA in the Spotlight: A Clash Over Cultural Rights

At the heart of the legal battle is the interpretation of NAGPRA. The defendants argue that the act does not apply to the remains at Carlisle Cemetery, claiming they do not constitute a "holding or collection" as defined by the act. The Winnebago Tribe fiercely contests this position, asserting that the remains, undeniably under federal control, should rightfully be returned in accordance with NAGPRA.


More Than Remains: A Tribe's Fight for Respect and Recognition

The Winnebago Tribe's lawsuit is not just about the return of remains; it's a fight for dignity, respect, and the honoring of cultural traditions that have been disregarded for far too long. The inadequacies of the Army's internal repatriation process only add insult to injury, disregarding the specific cultural and procedural protections provided by NAGPRA.


Seeking Resolution: The Winnebago Tribe's Demands in Court

As the legal proceedings unfold, the Winnebago Tribe stands resolute in its quest for justice, seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief. The tribe demands the court to recognize the Army's refusal to repatriate under NAGPRA as unlawful and to mandate a repatriation process that aligns with the act's stipulations and the tribe's cultural values.


Beyond Repatriation: Setting a Precedent for Indigenous Rights

This landmark lawsuit not only brings to the forefront the historical injustices faced by Native American communities but also underscores the critical importance of upholding and respecting indigenous rights and cultural legacies in the modern era. The outcome of this case could set a significant precedent, resonating far beyond the boundaries of the Winnebago Tribe and potentially redefining the relationship between federal institutions and Native American tribes across the nation.

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