NEBRASKA, USA — The recent two-week archeological dig near the site of a former Native American boarding school in Nebraska has concluded with no discovery of children’s remains. The search near the Genoa Indian Industrial School, led by the state’s archeologist Dave Williams, aimed to locate a lost children’s cemetery.
Despite the lack of findings, Williams and his team are determined to remain hopeful.
Judi gaiashkibos, an executive director within the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, expressed her disappointment at the outcome but emphasized the need for steadfastness and commitment in the search for answers.
The search gained renewed attention following the discovery of hundreds of children’s remains at other Native American boarding school sites across the United States and Canada in recent years.
Last summer, dogs trained to detect the scent of decaying remains indicated the possibility of a burial site in an area bordered by a farm field, railroad tracks, and a canal.
Subsequently, ground-penetrating radar identified four anomalies resembling graves beneath the ground surface. However, the excavation efforts did not uncover the expected anomaly containing children’s remains.
Archeological dig in Nebraska concludes without finding children’s remains
Williams acknowledged the challenges of archeology, stating that despite evidence pointing to a specific location, the actual findings can differ. The team will now reevaluate the data and consult with the tribes affected by the school to determine the next course of action.
The three remaining anomalies nearby may be explored, alternative leads pursued, or the search halted entirely if collectively decided by the tribes. Williams remains hopeful that the team can assist the tribes in finding the children and providing them a proper resting place.
Sunshine Thomas-Bear, the cultural preservation director for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, expressed the need for greater consultation with all 40 tribes affected by the school, not just those in Nebraska.
Thomas-Bear believes that the lack of findings this time may be attributed to the absence of certain tribes during the process. However, she remains optimistic that with collective efforts and improved collaboration, future endeavors will yield better results.
The Genoa Indian Industrial School was part of a nationwide network of over 400 Native American boarding schools aimed at assimilating Indigenous people into white culture. These schools separated children from their families, prohibited the use of Native languages, severed ties to heritage, and inflicted abuse.
Located approximately 90 miles west of Omaha, the school operated from 1884 until the 1930s when it closed and most of its buildings were demolished.
Last year, the U.S. Interior Department, led by Secretary Deb Haaland, released a groundbreaking report that identified numerous schools supported by the federal government for the purpose of eradicating Native Americans’ cultures and identities.
While at least 500 children died at some of these schools, it is anticipated that the number will rise into the thousands or even tens of thousands as additional efforts, like the dig in Nebraska, continue.