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Thursday, July 13, 2023

Indigenous Human Remains, Mostly Boarding School Children, Reported In 3 States This Week

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Secretary of The Interior Deb Haaland listens to testimony from a boarding school survivor during the first stop on The Road to Healing tour at Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma in July 2022. Photo by Nick Oxford.

Indigenous communities in three states this week are mourning the human remains discovered in their area.

Some have been waiting for confirmation that Native children were buried at the sites of local boarding schools, while other remains were discovered by sheer accident.

In southern Utah on July 11, twelve children’s bodies were found at a burial site at Panguitch Boarding School east of Highway 89 — becoming the only school among at least eight operated in Utah where student deaths and burials at the school have been verified.  The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah and its five sovereign bands are “devastated” by what was unearthed by Utah State University using ground-penetrating radar.

“Our hearts go out to the families of these children as we are left to consider how best to honor and memorialize their suffering,” said Ona Segundo, chairwoman of Arizona’s Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians, in a statement provided to The Salt Lake Tribune.

In Nebraska, archaeologists began digging at the site of the long-shuttered Genoa Indian Industrial School 90 miles west of Omaha, hoping to uncover the location of the school’s cemetery.  Though the school closed in 1931 and most of its buildings were demolished, the dig is an attempt to locate children who never came home from the school and whose bodies were never uncovered. 

The process is expected to take several days, after months of trial and error to determine the exact location of the graves, The Washington Post reported July 11. 

Last summer, dogs trained to find decaying remains signaled to archaeologists that they had found a burial site in a piece of land bordered by railroad tracks, a canal and an agricultural field.

Then in November, ground-penetrating radar was again used and detected an area that was consistent with burials, but nothing could be confirmed until archaeologists broke ground. 

Researchers found that 86 children — described in a student’s letter, newspaper clippings and school records — had perished at the school, mostly because of disease. At least one death was caused by an accidental shooting.  The researchers have not yet identified 37 of the children.  Some of the bodies had been returned to their families, while others were buried at the school in a forgotten location.

In Pennsylvania, officials confirmed on July 9 that the human remains discovered during construction work by a gas crew late last month were Indigenous people.

On June 21, workers and contractors excavating on Short Canal Street in Sharpsburg unearthed human remains four to five feet underground while attempting to install a piece of equipment. Sharpsburg’s police and Allegheny County forensics consulted with anthropologists and archaeologists to confirm the remains belonged to Native Americans. 

The anthropologist from the Seneca Iroquois National Museum in upstate New York said the remains are specifically from an Iroquois group, according to Melanie Linn Gutowski, chair of the Sharpsburg Historical Commission.



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