More Than 100 Indigenous Students Died at Former Nebraska Boarding School

Researchers are still searching for the cemetery where the children are likely buried.
Genoa US Indian Industrial School
U.S. Indian Industrial School, located in the eastern part of Genoa, Nebraska. Photo by Ammodramus (Wikipedia)

Researchers have identified 102 Indigenous students who died at a former federally funded boarding school in Genoa, Nebraska, that existed to brutally assimilate them. 

Researchers are still searching for the cemetery where the children are likely buried.

“These children died at the school,” Margaret Jacobs, a history professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-director of the Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project, told the Omaha World-Herald. “They didn’t get a chance to go home. I think that the descendants deserve to know what happened to their ancestors.”


Genoa Indian School Digital Reconciliation Project, launched in 2017, has been a driving force in identifying children and youth who died at the “school.” Thousands of documents, including former newspaper archives, were gathered and analyzed to identify the children. 

So far, the team hasn’t found any official government records on the matter. 

Jacobs said there may be duplicates among the recently identified names, but the death toll is likely much higher than 102.

The Genoa U.S. Indian Industrial School operated between 1884 and 1934, with nearly 600 students enrolled at its peak. It brutally mistreated thousands of students between the ages of 4 and 22, most of whom were forced to attend. Students weren’t allowed to speak their Indigenous languages or express their identities, and were forced to practice Christianity. Abuse and forced labor were common.

Genoa was one of the largest of 25 federally funded assimilative boarding schools, and the fourth to open, according to reports. (The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition has logged at least 367 boarding schools.) Across the U.S. and Canada, architects of the residential and boarding school systems notoriously sought to “kill the Indian, save the man.” 

Searches for unmarked graves at former residential and boarding schools have been in the spotlight since Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation confirmed more than 200 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia in May. The revelation set off a reckoning in Canada, with many non-Indigenous people forced to face their country’s historic and ongoing brutal mistreatment of Indigenous peoples.

Following Canada’s reckoning, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, member of the Pueblo of Laguna, announced a federal Indian boarding school initiative to investigate "the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies.” In the summer, people were watching closely as bodies found buried at the former Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania were repatriated to their tribal nations. 

"This history that happened to us, you know, there's been attempts over and over again to whitewash it, saying that it didn't happen. And it did happen. So it's best for America to learn what actually happened," Rosebud Sioux President Rodney Bordeaux told NPR of Haaland’s investigation.

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