Tribe asks investigators to check Kansas school for unmarked Native American child graves


This undated photo shows the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, Kan. The leader of an American Indian tribe is concerned that the former Kansas boarding school will be left out of a federal initiative seeking to determine whether thousands of Native American children were buried at schools across the country in the 1800s and early 1900s. (The Kansas City Star via AP)

FAIRWAY (AP/KSNT) – The leader of an American Indian tribe wants the federal government to include a former Kansas boarding school for Native American children in a new federal investigation.

The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative launched in June 2021 has investigators looking into whether Indigenous children were buried in unmarked graves in the 1800s and early 1900s. The U.S. Department of the Interior wrote the program would be “a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies,” and it came into creation after Canadian investigators found 215 unmarked child graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in modern-day British Columbia.

“Beginning with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the United States enacted laws and implemented policies establishing and supporting Indian boarding schools across the nation. The purpose of Indian boarding schools was to culturally assimilate Indigenous children by forcibly relocating them from their families and communities to distant residential facilities where their American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian identities, languages, and beliefs were to be forcibly suppressed. For over 150 years, hundreds of thousands of Indigenous children were taken from their communities. The Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative will serve as an investigation about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of residential Indian boarding schools. The primary goal will be to identify boarding school facilities and sites; the location of known and possible student burial sites located at or near school facilities; and the identities and Tribal affiliations of children interred at such locations.”

U.S. Department of the Interior

Ben Barnes, chief of the Oklahoma-based Shawnee Tribe, told the Associated Press that the tribe wants to know what happened to children at the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway, Kan. However, because Methodists ran the school instead of the government, it is unclear if the U.S. Department of the Interior will include the site in its investigation.

(The Kansas City Star via AP)

As other missions were designed for Indigenous children in the 1800’s, the Kansas Historical Society said Methodists established the Shawnee Indian Mission as a “manual training school” for people from groups including the Shawnee, Delaware, Kaw, Munsee, Ottawa, Chippewa, Otoe, Osage, Cherokee, Peoria, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wea, Gros Ventres, Omaha and Wyandot tribes. The school opened in 1839, and manual training there ended in 1854 before the mission closed in 1862.

At the height of its operation, the mission enrolled nearly 200 Indigenous children between ages five to 23, according to the Kansas Historical Society.

(The Kansas City Star via AP)

Barnes did say federal agents persuaded tribes to send their children to the church-run schools, and the government now has an obligation to locate any missing remains.

The Shawnee Indian Mission currently operates as a state historic site and is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

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