Dig Begins to Find Buried Native American Children

Archaeologists are seeking lost cemetery on grounds of ex-boarding school in Nebraska
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 10, 2023 12:27 PM CDT
Dig Begins to Find Buried Native American Children
A member of a team affiliated with the National Park Service uses ground-penetrating radar in hopes of detecting what's beneath the soil at the former Genoa Indian Industrial School on Oct. 27 in Genoa, Nebraska.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Bodies of dozens of children who died at a Native American boarding school have been lost for decades, a mystery that archaeologists aim to unravel as they begin digging in a central Nebraska field that a century ago was part of the sprawling campus. Crews toting shovels, trowels, and even smaller tools planned to start searching Monday at the site experts suspect is the Genoa Indian Industrial School cemetery, per the AP. Genoa was part of a national system of more than 400 Native American boarding schools that attempted to integrate Indigenous people into white culture by separating children from their families and cutting them off from their heritage.

The school, about 90 miles west of Omaha, opened in 1884 and at its height was home to nearly 600 students from more than 40 tribes across the country. It closed in 1931, and most buildings were long ago demolished. For decades, residents of the tiny community of Genoa, with help from Native Americans, researchers, and state officials, have sought the location of a forgotten cemetery where the bodies of up to 80 students are believed to be buried. Judi gaiashkibos, the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, whose mother attended the school in the late 1920s, said it's difficult to spend time in the community where many Native Americans suffered, but the vital search can help with healing and bringing the children's voices to the surface.

"It's an honor to go on behalf of my ancestors and those who lost their lives there, and I feel entrusted with a huge responsibility," gaiashkibos said. Newspaper clippings, records, and a student's letter indicate at least 86 students died at the school, usually due to diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid. The bodies of some of those children were returned to their homes, but others are believed to have been buried on the school grounds at a location long ago forgotten. As part of an effort to find the cemetery, dogs trained to detect the faint odor of decaying remains searched the area last summer and signaled they'd found a burial site. The next phase of the search is expected to take several days.

(More Native Americans stories.)

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