The grounds of a former Native American boarding school in Kansas will be searching for Native graves

The grounds of a former Native American boarding school in Kansas will be searched to determine if any Native children were buried there, state officials said.

The Kansas Historical Society, owner of the Fairway site, contracted with the University of Kansas Research Center to conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey of the 12 acres to search for unmarked graves.

The current Shawnee Indian Mission historic site was one of hundreds of schools run by government and religious groups in the 1800s and 1900s. Thousands of Native American children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in such schools, with the aim of assimilating them to American culture and Christianity.

The US Department of the Interior announced last year that it was investigating the treatment of Native American children in boarding schools. A federal report released in May identified more than 500 student deaths at institutions, but officials said the figure is expected to rise into the thousands as research continues.

Chiefs of the Shawnee tribe and other tribes had requested an excavation of the Fairway site. But tribal officials said in a statement that they were not consulted on the Historical Society’s project proposal before it was announced.

“We have requested a formal consultation to address serious concerns about the motives for this project, potential gaps in the process that could render results incomplete, and what plans might be to use the results of the project,” the tribe said. .

Patrick Zollner, the historical society’s executive director, responded that the Shawnee tribe was the “first to know” about the project proposal. He said the company has also contacted other tribes, including the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Kaw Nation, Osage Nation and others.

Chiefs of the Shawnee tribe have expressed concern in part because it is unclear if any children were buried at the current mission site, which is much smaller than the original property by nearly 2 000 acres. They also fear the project is moving too quickly before the tribe’s concerns can be addressed, spokeswoman Maggie Boyett said.

Zollner and Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, a spokeswoman for the University of Kansas, said consultation with the tribes is ongoing and work will not continue until that process is complete.

A proposed contract for the field study states that the historical society and the university will coordinate with tribes and other entities requesting consultation on the project. Under the contract, field work could be completed next April and a report submitted next summer. Shawnee Indian Methodist Handicraft School was established on its present site in 1939 by Thomas Johnson, a Methodist minister for whom Johnson County was later named. At one time it had 16 buildings and nearly 200 students a year aged 5 to 23.

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