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Search for remains of children continues at former Native American boarding school in Nebraska

GENOA, Neb. (AP) — Amid a renewed push for answers, archaeologists planned to resume digging Tuesday at the remote site of a former Native American boarding school in central Nebraska, searching for the remains of children who died there decades ago.

The search for a hidden cemetery near the former Genoa Indian Industrial School in Nebraska has received renewed interest following the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains at Native American boarding school sites in the U.S. and Canada since 2021, said Dave Williams, the state archaeologist who is digging. the site with teammates this week.

As of Monday afternoon, the team had not yet found any remains, but the excavation had only just begun.

“Where is the cemetery and how many people are buried there? It’s the big question hanging in the air,” said Alyce Tejral, a board member of the nearby Genoa US Indian School Foundation Museum.

Genoa was part of a national system of more than 400 Native American boarding schools that attempted to assimilate indigenous peoples into white culture by separating children from their families, cutting them off from their heritage, and inflicting physical and emotional abuse.

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Judi Gaiashkibos, the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, whose mother attended the school in the late 1920s, has been involved with the cemetery for many years. She said it’s hard to spend time in the community where many Native Americans have suffered, but the vital quest can aid healing and bring the voices of the children to the surface.

Williams, the archaeologist, said finding the location of the cemetery and the burials within it could provide some peace and comfort to people who have gone through a long period of not knowing exactly what happened to their relatives who attended boarding schools. were sent and never came. At home.

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

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Newspaper clippings, records, and a student’s letter indicate that at least 86 students died at the school, mostly due to diseases such as tuberculosis and typhoid, but at least one death was attributed to an accidental shooting.

Investigators identified 49 of the children who died, but could not find the names of 37 students. The bodies of some of those children were returned to their homes, but others are believed to have been buried on the school grounds in a long-forgotten location.

As part of an effort to locate the burial site, dogs trained to detect the faint odor of decaying remains searched the area and indicated they had found a burial site on a narrow stretch of land bordered by a farm field, railway lines and a channel. .

A team using ground-penetrating radar last November also showed an area consistent with digging, but there are no guarantees until the researchers finish digging into the ground, Williams said.

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The process is expected to take several days.

If the dig reveals human remains, the State Archeology Office will continue to work with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs to decide what’s next. They could rebury the remains in the field and make a memorial or exhume them and return the bodies to tribes.

Last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior — headed by Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico and the first Native American cabinet secretary — released a unique report that identified hundreds of schools supported by the federal government. stripping Indians of their culture and identity.

At least 500 children died in some schools, but that number is expected to rise to the thousands or tens of thousands as the investigation progresses.


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

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