Researchers in Genoa, Nebraska, have identified 102 indigenous children who died at a federal boarding school in the area. Ongoing efforts to explore the area are expected to uncover even more victims of brutal U.S. attempts at forcible assimilation.
“These children died at the school,” Margaret Jacobs told the Omaha World-Herald. Jacobs is a history professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-director of the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project. “They didn’t get a chance to go home. I think that the descendants deserve to know what happened to their ancestors.”
Canada and the U.S. have commenced a long-delayed undertaking to examine the legacy of boarding schools (or “residential schools,” in Canada) where indigenous children were forcibly shipped off to in an attempt to assimilate them. The government tried to re-educate and convert the children taken from their families and communities, but those efforts often included forced labor, abuse and — all too often — a death for children many miles from their home, surrounded by strangers. While some have defended the good intentions of the school (despite the initiative’s self-described goal to “kill the Indian, save the man”), these schools’ legacy is one of unmarked graves.
In 2017, the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project was launched to identify the kids who died at the school, which operated between 1884 and 1934. The project has combed through thousands of old documents in an attempt to figure out what happened to the students who were forced to attend the school, though they’ve found no actual federal documents on the deaths of the children there.
Though now a tiny city in eastern Nebraska, Genoa was once the largest of 25 federally funded U.S. assimilative boarding schools, according to Vice News. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, is a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and she launched the initiative to explore “the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.”