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Genoa Indian Boarding School students identified as search for cemetery continues

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 10:48 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Nearly a hundred students who died at a Native American boarding school in Nebraska have been identified.

The news comes as the search for the school’s cemetery continues. Researchers expect more deaths to be discovered.

“There are more children out there that we need to find their names,” said Dr. Margaret Jacobs, who’s research is dedicated to uncovering the truth about Native American boarding schools.

“I don’t even like to call them schools sometimes I like to call them institutions because I believe people get a mistaken idea of when they think of school,” said Dr. Margaret Jacobs, Co-Director, Genoa Indian School Reconciliation Project.

Indian boarding schools started in the late 19th century and spanned well into the next, forcing tens of thousands of Native American children from their homes.

“Once the children were removed there were subjected to an incredibly harsh institution upbringing,” said Dr. Jacobs.

The children were stripped of their culture in an effort to assimilate them into Western ways.

“There was harsh punishment for even just speaking one’s language and when I say harsh punishment I mean corporal punishment that left children crippled or disfigured or blind,” said Dr. Jacobs, of the boarding schools, which proved to be deadly.

“I think the biggest killer overall in all the boarding schools was tuberculosis,” said Dr. Jacobs, who alongside her team is digging into their archives and beyond to identify those who died while at the government and church run schools.

“The schools were often overcrowded. The nutrition for the children was often really poor. There was not great sanitation so disease would spread quickly through the schools,” said Dr. Jacobs.

“I was just looking at a telegram sent home to a set of parents that said, ‘your son died at the school he was accidentally killed by another student,’ and you’re thinking what happened there and all we have is a tiny telegram.”

Indian boarding schools were thrust into the spotlight this summer when two mass graves were discovered in Canada. Shortly after U.S. Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland announced the United States would begin a similar search.

The search in Genoa has begun using ground penetrating radar.

“They have tried three times at three different sites we thought were potential sites,” said Dr. Jacobs, noting they know the cemetery did exist, but it’s unclear where and whether it’s still there.

“It’s okay for me to tell you we did the searches and didn’t find anything, but we don’t want to publicize it for a lot of different reasons,” said Dr. Jacobs. “If we were to find something that’s something, the Native American people should get to experience first. It’s so important that this be handled really sensitively.”

And while the ground search continues Dr. Jacobs and her colleagues will continue diving into the documents.

“We’re going to continue to search the numbers of children who died, the identities of children who died, and hopefully get this back to their descendants who can determine how to properly honor those children who died so early in their lives,” said Dr. Jacobs.

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