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Dickinson College Co-Presents New Documentary on Carlisle Indian Industrial School

Excerpt from the poster for the film, "Home From School: The Children of Carlisle." The poster depicts several Native American people in front of a cloudy sky.

Film poster courtesy of Caldera Productions.

Film Explores the Painful History of Carlisle's Native American Boarding School

by Craig Layne

Dickinson, alongside the Cumberland County Historical Society and central Pennsylvania public media organization WITF, will present a special premiere screening event and community conversation around the new Independent Lens/Caldera Productions film Home From School: The Children of Carlisle on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the Carlisle Theatre. After the screening, the film’s producer, writer and director, Geoff O’Gara, along with a panel of experts, will engage in an insightful and healing conversation with the audience about the documentary. The event is free and open to the public, and registration is required. Face coverings are required inside the theatre.

Home From School: The Children of Carlisle delves into a dark chapter in American history. It follows a delegation of Northern Arapaho tribal members who traveled from Wyoming to Carlisle in 2017 to retrieve the remains of three children who died at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in the 1880s. The film takes the audience on a journey into the troubled history of Indian boarding schools and a quest to heal generational wounds.

“My hope is that viewers will want to travel with us and understand better the impact of the past on the present, the humanity in our subjects and the complex process of healing historic injuries,” said director O’Gara, who is also president of Caldera Productions, an independent documentary film company that tells stories rooted in the American West.

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School was established by Richard Henry Pratt in 1879. It was the first federally funded off-reservation boarding school in the U.S. Pratt’s mission was to assimilate Native American children by removing them from their homes, their families, their communities and their culture. Nearly 7,800 students attended Carlisle until it closed in 1918, including famed Olympian Jim Thorpe. While enrolled, 234 students died, and approximately 190 children were buried at the school. Since 2017, the remains of 21 students have been disinterred and repatriated to their home communities.

The film includes mention of the work of Dickinson's Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center (CISDRC) and interviews with its co-director and college archivist, Jim Gerencser ’93, and with Frank Vitale '16, who worked with the CISDRC when he was a student. The CISDRC is a critical source of information for descendants, historians and scholars. Teams of Dickinson students have scanned documents housed at the National Archives—more than 300,000 documents have been digitized since 2013. 

Panelists include:

  • Jim Gerencser ’93 – Dickinson College Archivist & Co-Director of the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center
  • Barb Landis – Historian, formerly of the Cumberland County Historical Society
  • Darren Lone FightAssistant Professor of American Studies
  • Geoff O’Gara – Home From School Producer/Writer/Director and Panel Moderator

More About Home from School: The Children of Carlisle

“Kill the Indian in him, and save the man” was the guiding principle of the U.S. government run Indian boarding school system starting in the late 19th Century. The program removed tens of thousands of Native American children from their tribal homelands, and through brutal assimilation tactics, stripped them of their languages, traditions, and culture. The students were forced through a military-style, remedial education. Most children returned emotionally scarred, culturally unrooted with trauma that has echoed down the generations. Many students never returned home, having died at the schools. Home From School: The Children of Carlisle dives into history of the flagship federal boarding school, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, and follows the modern-day journey of the Northern Arapaho Tribe as they seek to bring home the remains of three children who died at Carlisle over 100 years ago. To move forward they need to heal from the past, and in doing so they forge the way for other tribes to follow.

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Published November 2, 2021

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