On the edge of a town in Genoa, Nebraska, there is a stone monument that serves as a tombstone on the grounds of a government-run boarding school for Native Americans that closed nearly a century ago.
No one knows how many students died there, at the Genoa American Indian Industrial School, although thousands are believed to have passed through its doors. Government documents have proven elusive or ambiguous about the exact death toll. No graves were found on the ground.
But using digital government records and newspaper extracts, researchers recently used It brought together a portion of the history of the Genoese school, which ran from 1884 to 1934, and once spanned more than 30 buildings and 640 acres.
The researchers confirmed that at least 87 children died in the school, and identified the names of 50 students whose names have not been announced. They said the true death toll may be much higher.
The research effort, titled the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project, and published by the Omaha World-Herald last week, is adding momentum to an international account with the mass forced relocation of Native American children to boarding schools, where they have been forced to assimilate. The government’s preferred lifestyle.
Experts estimate that after Congress passed the Civilization Fund Act in 1819, which allowed the government to educate Native Americans, hundreds of thousands of Native American children were sent to government-run boarding schools or churches. Some have not returned home.
Dr. Margaret Jacobs, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and one of the Genoa project directors, said it was time to confront “these really tough dates.”
“I think when Americans hear the word ‘school,’ they think of something really positive,” she said. “It took some time for Americans to realize that boarding schools are not a charity, and were created to separate Indian children from their families and communities, to sever ties between them.”
There were at least 367 boarding schools in 29 states, with the highest concentration in the central United States, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, a nonprofit organization established to address the schools’ legacy.
An 1885 report by the Commission on Indian Affairs said the institution, where students would also work by cooking, cleaning, farming, or learning to trade, was the “only remedy” to protect Native American youth from the “contamination of such gross perversions” in the “wild” environments that They were born there.
The coalition’s chief executive, Christine Dindisi Macliffe, said there is no official estimate for the number of students enrolled in these schools and the number who have died in them.
“No one knows the real number because no one has completely checked the records,” she added.
In the 19th century, Canada also established mandatory boarding schools for Aboriginal children. In a 2015 report, an ad hoc committee estimated that 150,000 students attended schools until they closed in the late 20th century. The report also determined that at least 6,000 students died in these schools, mostly from malnutrition or disease.
Schools were one example of a “cultural genocide” perpetrated by the Canadian government, the commission’s report said, describing it as an institution that tore families and identities apart, outlawing languages, social practices and things of value.
Local communities and government agencies continued to search for names and graves related to schools. This year, the British Columbia Aboriginal community found an unmarked mass grave in British Columbia containing the bodies of as many as 751 people on the site of a former school. The remains of children as young as 3 years old were found.
A month later, the US Department of the Interior announced an initiative to search public boarding school websites for Native American burials. Press Secretary Tyler Sherry said the department is analyzing government records and consulting with Indigenous communities and plans to release a report in April.
Judy Gayashkibos, a member of the Ponca tribe and executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the United States was long overdue in “owning this legacy.” Ms. Giachkepos, who says she uses a lowercase letter for her last name as a sign of humility, said her mother and aunts attended school. Her office leads the Genoese project by searching for graves on the site of the Genoese school, where only one building and two barns remain.
Ms. Giacchibos said the team may publish the names of the students who died after speaking with the families of the deceased. Dr. Jacobs said that prior to this point, the team needed to consult with community counselors.
“We have always been afraid to tell stories of genocide,” she said, adding that many in Nebraska were unaware of the Genoese school’s past. “Let’s do it all and tell the whole story. I think it’s really time.”