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Archeologists search for cemetery at site of Native American boarding school in Genoa, Nebraska

By Aaron Hegarty

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    GENOA, Nebraska (KMTV) — Monday, archaeologists slowly and methodically began looking for human remains near a railway and canal on the edge of small-town Genoa, Nebraska.

Months ago, above-ground tech identified four “grave-like” areas underground in the spot of the dig, and dogs identified the scent of human remains.

The hope is to find remains of Native American children who died while attending the Genoa Indian School.

At least 86 students of the school diedduring its 50-year run beginning in 1884, according to History Nebraska. It’s believed not all returned home, and documents refer to a cemetery, but the location has been lost to time.

“People want to know where their ancestors are,” said Sunshine Thomas-Bear, the historical preservation officer for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, who visited the dig site on Monday. “Each tribe has their own ceremonies for burial. And if those ceremonies haven’t been completed, our students haven’t started their journeys yet.”

For her, it’s hard to watch.

“It’s difficult to know we weren’t thought of enough to have that history written down about where our students were; why families weren’t contacted and given that chance to take their families home,” Thomas-Bear said.

Genoa was one of hundreds of schools that were part of the U.S. federal government’s Indian Boarding School Program, and one of the largest, at times holding up to around 600 students. According to History Nebraska, the school was run with heavy discipline; students weren’t allowed to speak their native language, and they were given new names.

“It was basically to kill the Indian in us,” said Thomas-Bear.

State Archaeologist Dave Williams is eager to help in the search.

“Folks have been looking for the cemetery since at least the ’90s,” he said.

The plan is to be out here all week, to find some answers.

“There’s a lot of questions I don’t think we’ll ever know the answer to,” Thomas-Bear said. “But I hope this is a start in finding them.”

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