The 47th annual Oneida pow wow kicked off with the nation’s traditional dances and music.
But this year’s ceremonies are about more than tradition – its also about honoring tribal members gone far too long.
This year’s event is reuniting the remains of three Oneida girls with their families and the tribe more than 100 years after they died.
More than a century ago more than 300 Oneida children were sent to boarding school in Pennslyvania because of a law that native children could not live with their parents during what was an era of assimilation.
Three of them are now home and Friday’s pow wow was held in their honor.
“When I think of a young child that far from home and on their deathbed and sick just wanting mom and dad and just to go home, the only right thing was to bring them home,” says Oneida councilman Kirby Metoxen.
The three remains that have been brought back to their birthplace are 18-year-old Ophelia Powless and 16-year-olds Jemima Metoxen and Sophia Caulon.
They died at a military boarding school known as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
Generations later their third and fourth cousins worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in coordination with the Carlisle Army Barracks to have their remains examined by forensic anthropologists to identify them.
“What was surprising in going through the process were the emotions that came up,” says Metoxen. “I didn’t know these children and viewing the remains and re-wrapping them just brought up all kinds of emotions and the stories that you hear of the people who survived the boarding schools.”
The process in total took two years.
The Army National Military Cemeteries paid the expenses for nine individuals who made the trip from Oneida to bring their ancestors home.
The tribe, including the spiritaul advisor, says this experience proved more of those 300 children can be brought back.
“I believe our experience was very positive,” says Church of the Holy Apostles vicar Rodger Patience. “This might encourage other families to work with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Army National Military Cemeteries with the same project.”
The actual burial and ceremony will be Sunday at Church of the Holy Apostles.
Ophelia Powless will be buried at the Holy Apostles Cemetery – Jemima Metoxen and Sophia Caulon at the Oneida sacred burial grounds.