Carlisle ceremony: ‘I felt a strong presence that the spirits of the children were there’

Carlisle/West Shore

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — Kassi Fiddler, a nine-year-old Lakota Sioux girl, can’t fully imagine what some of her ancestors went through at the American Indian Industrial School here. None of us can.

But she felt a little closer to them Saturday in a ceremony the remember the school children, especially the about 186 that died.

“I felt a strong presence that the spirits of the children were there” Saturday at a multi-generational, multi-cultural ceremony at the rehabilitated cemetery at Carlisle Barracks. “They were here. Standing there.”

Her father, Delwin Fiddler, who also goes by his Lakota Sioux name Hehakapa Mahto, led the private ceremony, which was attended by a group of people of mostly European descent, led by Maria Ragonese.

Fiddler and Ragonese lead an organization called “PAZA, Tree of Life,” which supports indigenous Americans.

“The thing that is heartbreaking to me, especially back then, is they just took their culture away from them,” Ragonese said.

“They cut their hair off. you could not speak the language. They were forced to wear modern-day clothes, which was kind of foreign to us, and still kind of foreign to us in a way,” Fiddler said.

Among those at the ceremony: Jim Todd, a retired United Methodist pastor, who added a Christian prayer to Fiddler’s Lakota prayers and teachings.

“It’s my way of continuing acts of repentance for what was done many years ago,” Todd said.

Repentance, that is, for the acts of John Chivington, whose story Todd learned about at a conference a decade ago.

Fiddler and Ragonese met four years ago and realized that for all their cultural differences, they shared something important in common. Ragonese lost family members at the World Trade Center during the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

“So Delwin and I said, this is the same thing,” Ragonese said. “We lost people to somebody else’s hate.”

Hours before Ragonese joined Fiddler at the commemoration for children who suffered and died at the boarding school, Fiddler joined Ragonese at — where else? — a ceremony in Shanksville, Pa., commemorating 9/11 victims.

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