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Children’s remains exhumed at long-closed Native American boarding school – Wake-up call

Trisha Ahmed and Charlie Neighborgal (Related Press)

GENOA, Nebraska (AP) – A state archaeologist from Nebraska and two teammates fill a bucket with dirt in a secluded area of ​​a long-closed Native American boarding school near a canal and railroad tracks. , sifted as if looking for something. Money.

They are trying to find the bodies of children who died at school and have been missing for decades. Archaeologists are digging into a field in central Nebraska that was part of a sprawling campus a century ago, trying to unravel its mysteries.

People armed with shovels, trowels and even small tools are searching an unmarked area where ground penetrating radar suggested a possible site for the Genova Indian Industrial School cemetery.

Genoa was part of a national system of more than 400 Native American boarding schools that sought to assimilate the Indigenous peoples into white culture by separating children from their families and their traditions. And the remains of more than 200 children were found buried in what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous boarding school, sparking interest in this troubling legacy in both Canada and the United States from 2021 onwards. there is

“For every family that has a student who died here in Genoa and was never returned home, that information has been missing for over 90 years, creating this eternal cycle of trauma,” state archaeologist Dave Williams said. said on Monday.

Mr. Williams said to tribes whose children were sent to boarding school and had long periods of uncertainty that they did not return home, “Finding the location of the cemetery and the burial grounds contained within it is a source of peace and comfort.” It will be a small step to bring about the

About 90 miles (145 kilometers) west of Omaha, the school opened in 1884 and, at its peak, had nearly 600 students from more than 40 tribes across the country. It closed in 1931 and most of the buildings were demolished long ago.

For decades, residents of a small community in Genoa, with the help of Native Americans, researchers and state officials, have searched for the location of a forgotten cemetery where the bodies of students are believed to be buried.

Judy Gaiacikivos, executive director of the Nebraska Indian Affairs Commission, said her mother had attended the school in the late 1920s but had been involved in the cemetery’s construction activities for many years and was due to go to Genoa on Monday. She said it’s difficult to spend time in areas where many Native Americans are suffering, but a significant search could help heal and bring the voices of children to the surface.

β€œIt is an honor to be able to stand in for my ancestors and those who lost their lives there, and I feel a great responsibility,” said Gaiskibos.

At least 86 students died at the school, according to newspaper clippings, records and student letters, usually from diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid fever, but at least one death was attributed to an accidental shooting. .

Researchers have identified 49 of the murdered children, but have not found the names of 37 students. The bodies of some of these children were returned to their homes, while others are believed to have been buried in forgotten locations long before the schoolyard.

As part of an effort to find the cemetery, dogs trained to sniff out the faint smell of decaying bodies scoured the area last summer and found burial grounds in narrow strips of land surrounded by fields, railroad tracks and canals. I signaled that I had found .

A research team using ground-penetrating radar last November also showed an area matching the tomb, but archaeologist Williams said there were no guarantees until researchers were able to excavate the ground.

Expect this process to take several days.

“We’re going to dig up the soil and first see if what we’re seeing on the ground penetrating radar is actually a tomb-like terrain,” Williams said. “And once we know that, we’ll remove the feature and see if there are still human remains in the area.”

If human remains are found in the excavation, the State Archeology Department will continue to work with the Nebraska Indian Affairs Commission to determine the next course of action. Williams said the bodies could be reburied in a field and erected as a memorial or exhumed and returned to the tribe.

Williams said that while the DNA could tell the region of each child’s country of origin, it would be difficult to narrow it down to individual tribes.

The federal government is scrutinizing the boarding school system. The U.S. Department of the Interior, led by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, New Mexico, and the first Native American Chief Cabinet Secretary, will release its first report in 2022, followed by a second report with more details. I am working on a report.


Ahmed reported from Minneapolis. Scott McFetridge contributed from Des Moines, Iowa.


The article was revised throughout, and researchers determined that more than 80 children had died at the school, not that more than 80 bodies were buried.

https://www.mcall.com/2023/07/11/dig-begins-for-the-remains-of-children-at-a-long-closed-native-american-boarding-school/ Children’s remains exhumed at long-closed Native American boarding school – Wake-up call

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