Remaining A Child
10.5” X 7.5” X 11”
X-rays, frosted vellum, artificial sinew
As part of my ongoing research of the Carlisle Indian Boarding School, I made a trip to Carlisle, PA in the spring of 2016 with my daughter. In advance of our travel, we created over 200 medicine bundles filled with healing sage, sweet grass, cedar and tobacco via donations sent from all over the country. We placed one on each of the graves of the children buried on the school premises accompanied with our prayers. This seemed particularly timely as it coincided with the Army Corp of Engineer's year-long inquiry to determine whether to attempt the identification of the remains of these children and repatriate them to their families and tribes.
While reviewing files and documents in the Cumberland County Historical Society's library, we learned many heart breaking stories about these children. One young woman from my tribe was bedfast in the hospital for a year before she died...I had to wonder if her parents knew and if they were given the option to participate in her healing. Another young man made a conscious and fatal decision after he was "confiscated" from a train while trying to depart with other members of his tribe; the school would not allow the boy’s release along with his cousins because the staff denied his uncle’s authority to claim him. In protest, this child refused all food until he escaped from the school in the only manner left to him. My heart aches for every single one of these children who were separated from the only family and culture they knew and thrown into an alien society that was so at odds with their upbringing.
This single-weave basket is inspired by traditional Cherokee ones but rather than being woven with white oak splints, it is woven from splints created from X-rays and frosted vellum paper. Two LED lights are placed inside this piece: when the lights are off, the Cherokee basket pattern of “Mountains” is evident, linking these children with their homelands. But when the lights are on, the bone images are visible, referencing human remains. The names of the buried students in the school cemetery (including 13 "Unknown") are hand written on the vellum. The shape of the basket is also a familiar Cherokee one called a "coffin" shape.
The title was inspired by a Kiowa Black Leggings Society Dance memorializing warriors from battles since the Korean War. The emcee recited all the names of warriors who gave their life in battle since the Korean War, also commenting for each that s/he “would forever be 18 years old” (or however old they were when they died). It was a beautifully moving ceremony that made a great impression on me. While studying the Carlisle cemetery logs, I was struck that these children will forever be remembered by the age of their death. Many Indian people consider this school to be the result of a war crime, thus making the children prisoners of war. It does not seem a stretch at all to afford these deceased children with the same honor as Kiowa warriors.