Native American students at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, in Pennsylvania. Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

This summer, Bowdoinham residents Ted and Lara Ashouwak will travel to Carlisle, Pennsylvania to retrieve the remains of Ted’s long-lost American Indian relative and accompany her to her final resting place in Kodiak, Alaska.

From 1869 to the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were taken by the U.S. government and sent to boarding schools with the intent of assimilation by stripping them of their culture and language, according to The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition. Among those was Ted Ashouwak’s great aunt, Anastasia Ashouwak, who was taken in 1901.

Anastatia Ashouwak.  Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

Lara Ashouwak said the family never knew of Anastasia until she received a phone call from the director of the Aluttiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak, Alaska, last year.

The museum had found a name on one of the headstones at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania similar to Ashouwak. “Their staff thought the misspelled name ‘Anatasia Achwack,’ might be a relative of my husband’s family that lives in the Native village of Old Harbor, Alaska,” she said.

Often, the names and tribes of these children were misspelled on their gravestones, she added. Through DNA testing and ancestry.com, it was confirmed the grave belonged to the Ashouwak family.

The Ashouwaks learned that Anastasia died at the age of 15 from malnutrition, tuberculosis and abuse while attending the Carlisle boarding school.

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Carlisle, Pennsylvania Native American Cemetery Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

The Pennsylvania Carlisle Indian Industrial School was the first government-run boarding school for American Indian children, established in 1879. The school was in operation for 39 years, housing children from over 140 tribes. Hundreds of children died at the school due to disease and harsh living conditions. While some of their remains were returned to their families, at least 186 still remain buried in the school cemetery, according to the Carlisle Indian School Project.

The U.S. Army has since inherited the Carlisle Cemetery and is working with families of the deceased. Some have chosen to return their ancestors’ remains to tribal lands while others have chosen to keep them at the Carlisle Cemetery with modified headstones.

Gravestone from the Carlisle Cemetery, at an archeological and forensic site. Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

“Students were forced to cut their hair, change their names, stop speaking their Native languages, convert to Christianity, and endure harsh discipline including corporal punishment and solitary confinement,” according to the Office of Army Cemeteries. “This approach was ultimately used by hundreds of other Native American boarding schools, some operated by the government and many more operated by churches.”

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative in 2021, a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.

“This painful investigation uncovers a shameful stain from America’s past that has been whitewashed from our history books,” said Interior Appropriations Chairperson and Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in a press release in response to the $7 million investigative report. “If we hope to stop the cycle of the intergenerational trauma felt by native people, we must confront the 150-year legacy of federal Indian boarding schools which were created by the U.S. Government to explicitly eradicate native culture and indoctrinate Indigenous children away from their communities.”

Granddaughter of Ted and Lara Ashouwak, Bayley Rowland, wearing a handmade ermine headdress, made by artist Cassey Rowland. Contributed by Lara Ashouwak

“I get so angry thinking about what happened to these children,” said Lara Ashouwak.

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She said her husband is stoic when it comes the subject of Anastasia. “He doesn’t say a lot. His family in Alaska is proud that they have made the connection.”

In July, the Ashouwaks will participate in a weeklong trip from Pennsylvania to Alaska to identify, honor, retrieve and escort Anastasia’s remains home. Seven other Native American children will be returned to their families at the same time.

Bayley Rowland, granddaughter of Ted Ashouwak, wearing a headdress made by her mother, Caseey Rowland. Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

The Ashouwak family, the Aluttiq Museum, Koniag Government Services, the Aluttiq tribe of Old Harbor and the Bishop of Alaska’s Russian Orthodox Church are coordinating Anastasia’s return to Old Harbor.

Anastasia will be laid to rest next to her brother, Peter Ashouwak, and other family members she never met. Her grave will be at the edge of a cliff overlooking her village and the Pacific Ocean, said Lara Ashouwak.

Anastasia wasn’t the only relative of Ted Ashouwak who lost her life to the harsh boarding school conditions.

“In my research, I recently discovered who my father-in-law’s birth mother was,” said Lara Ashouwak. “She too, suffered the same fate as Anastasia, at the Chemawa School near Salem, Oregon.  Anna Washbrokoff ‘graduated’ from the school – pregnant, became a maid and died a few months after giving birth. Her son began his life in an orphanage on the Tulalip Indian reservation, in Washington.”

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Ted Ashouwak and his granddaughter Bayley Rowland. Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

Ted and Lara Ashouwak have been together for 40 years and met while Lara was working as an intensive care nurse at the Indian Health Service Hospital in Alaska. During her eight years there, she said she educated herself about the local tribes. She bought children’s books about the local culture, in hopes of educating her children about their ancestors.

“I raised my kids, knowing their heritage,” she said.

The Ashouwak’s two sons live in Maine and attend Mt. Ararat schools in Topsham, while Ted’s daughter Cassey Rowland lives in Alaska with her daughter Bayley.

Rowland is a well-known artist in Kodiak, creating Native jewelry and elaborate headdresses. Her daughter Bayley was named Koniag’s Youth of the Year in 2020 for her daily life that honors the Kodiak-based tribes.  In addition to being a Kodiak Alutiiq dancer, Bayley assists her family with picking berries, cleaning freshly caught deer, tanning fish leather, as well as gathering beach grass to weave baskets.

 

 

Ted and Lara Ashouwak’s children, Joe and Sam Ashouwak, both Mt. Ararat students. Photo contributed by Lara Ashouwak

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