Growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kirby Metoxen knew that many of his family members had been removed from their families in the Oneida Nation and sent to boarding schools. These schools were founded and run by both the United States Government and Christian churches. The purpose was forced assimilation: to strip Native American children of their language, dress, food and rituals. It is estimated that by 1926, around 83% of Native children were attending these schools.
Pupils at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, circa 1900.
As an adult Kirby was on a road trip with friends to Pennsylvania from Wisconsin. While driving, he was recounting the personal history of his family’s experience at one of these schools in particular, the Carlisle School in Pennsylvania. On a whim, they decided to take a detour and visit the school.
The Grave of Ophelia Powless at the Holy Apostles Cemetery in Oneida, WI. Courtesy of Rodger Patience.
Unbeknownst to Kirby, there were Oneida children buried in a cemetery on the school grounds, now a military base. This revelation led him on an unexpected journey to return those children to the Oneida Nation once and for all.
Top Photo: Rodger Patience and Kirby Metoxen at their StoryCorps interview in Green Bay, Wisconsin on January 27, 2022. By Carl Romey for StoryCorps.
Originally aired March 18th, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition.