Archaeological Dig in Nebraska Reveals No Child Remains Near Former Native American Boarding School

by Madison Thomas
Native American boarding school excavation

No child remains were discovered during an excavation effort in Nebraska, near the former site of the Genoa Indian Industrial School. The state archaeologist, Dave Williams, confirmed this outcome. He added that an upcoming Zoom meeting with representatives of 40 tribal groups across America is scheduled for the coming week to discuss further actions.

Member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, Judi gaiashkibos, expressed her disappointment. “I would have hoped we found the children,” she said. “Yet, we must maintain optimism. It’s been over 90 years. I feel a strong need to remain dedicated and resolute.”

The excavation project gained momentum after the discovery of hundreds of child remains at several other Native American boarding school sites across the U.S. and Canada. Sniffer dogs trained to identify the scent of decaying remains pointed towards a potential burial site last summer. The site is a narrow piece of land bordered by a farm field, railroad tracks, and a canal. In November, ground-penetrating radar identified four anomalies — areas of disturbed soil — suggestive of grave formations.

Despite spending two weeks on the excavation, Williams and his team did not uncover the anticipated remains in the first anomaly. “This is one of the complexities of archaeology,” Williams reflected. “We may have strong indications that something should be at a certain location. But when we finally dig into the ground, what we find may not align with our expectations.”

In the upcoming weeks, the team will revisit their data and the reasons leading them to that particular location. Collaborating with multiple tribes who lost their children to the school, they will design a new plan of action. There are three other anomalies nearby that could be explored, other leads to pursue, or the search could be halted entirely, depending on the collective decision of the tribes, stated Williams. Yet, he remains hopeful that the team can support the tribes, locate the children, and “provide them with a fitting rest.”

Sunshine Thomas-Bear, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska and the cultural preservation director for the tribe, stressed the need for wider consultation with all 40 tribes, not just those in Nebraska. She expects this to be more prevalent in the next phase of the project. “Although we found nothing this time, it might be because we weren’t fully prepared yet,” Thomas-Bear suggested. “Some tribes were not notified, some were absent. We believe that everything unfolds for a reason. I think that if we align our efforts, we may have more success.”

The Genoa Indian Industrial School, part of a network of over 400 Native American boarding schools, aimed at assimilating Indigenous children into white culture. This assimilation involved isolating children from their families, forbidding them from speaking their native languages, and disconnecting them from their cultural heritage. Opened in 1884, the school, located 90 miles west of Omaha, once housed nearly 600 students before it was closed in the 1930s. Most of its buildings have long since been demolished.

In a first-of-its-kind report last year, the U.S. Interior Department, under Secretary Deb Haaland, identified hundreds of schools backed by the federal government designed to erase the cultures and identities of Native Americans. The report estimated that at least 500 children died at these institutions. This number is projected to rise into the thousands or even tens of thousands as more investigations, like the Nebraska dig, proceed.

Trisha Ahmed, a corps member of the Big Big News/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative, contributed to this report. Report for America is a national service program placing journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Trisha Ahmed on Twitter: @TrishaAhmed15

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Native American boarding school excavation

Were any child remains found in the recent Nebraska excavation near a former Native American boarding school?

No, the recent archaeological excavation near the former Genoa Indian Industrial School in Nebraska did not uncover any child remains.

Who led the excavation near the former Native American boarding school in Nebraska?

The excavation was led by Dave Williams, the state’s archaeologist.

What will be the next steps after this excavation in Nebraska?

The next steps will be determined in consultation with representatives of 40 tribal groups across America. This includes revisiting the data, exploring other anomalies nearby, pursuing other leads, or potentially halting the search entirely based on the collective decision of the tribes.

Why did the search near the former Genoa Indian Industrial School in Nebraska gain renewed interest?

The search gained renewed interest following the discovery of hundreds of child remains at other Native American boarding school sites across the U.S. and Canada.

What was the Genoa Indian Industrial School?

The Genoa Indian Industrial School was part of a national system of more than 400 Native American boarding schools that attempted to assimilate Indigenous children into white culture by separating them from their families, prohibiting them from speaking their Native languages, and inflicting abuse.

How many children died in the Native American boarding schools according to the U.S. Interior Department’s report?

The report estimated that at least 500 children died at these schools. However, this number is projected to rise into the thousands or even tens of thousands as more investigations proceed.

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JamesMcD July 22, 2023 - 10:35 am

I can’t believe it, those poor kids… We need more of these investigations done, pronto!

historylover101 July 22, 2023 - 12:16 pm

Interesting how we’re always learning more about our own history. it’s shocking sometimes.

Patriot_1776 July 22, 2023 - 10:12 pm

How much more has been lost, swept under the rug? We all need to know this. It’s high time we face the facts!

always_learning22 July 23, 2023 - 12:19 am

let’s hope the tribes can find some closure, however it turns out…history is painful but needs confronting.

NativeVoice July 23, 2023 - 2:17 am

Why is this not on the front page? This is a part of American history we cant ignore…

GreenQueen July 23, 2023 - 4:27 am

oh no… thats so sad. hope the families find peace.

lizzy_b July 23, 2023 - 7:10 am

Digging up the past, quite literally. Never easy but always necessary. Thanks for the report!


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