Students from Nebraska Indian Community College (NICC) recently took a field trip to the Genoa U.S. Indian School in Genoa, Nebraska. The visit was a part of the college’s Native American Studies 1890 to Present history course that enabled students to see a boarding school first hand.
The Genoa U.S. Indian School was the fourth federal Indian boarding school and one of the longest operating, opening in 1884 and closing in 1934. It is now a National Historic Site and houses an interpretive center, which once served as the school’s manual training building. Because an NICC bus provided transport, additional space was available and invitations were extended to all NICC employees and community elders.
Twenty-one students, faculty, staff, and community members made the 2-hour journey to Genoa. Community elder Donald Grant offered a prayer on the bus before the departure and expressed gratitude that “NICC was providing this opportunity for the students to learn about their ancestors who were students at Genoa.”
As part of the visit, NICC students presented a star quilt to the school’s museum staff as a way to honor their ancestors who were sent there. “The quilt serves as both a reminder of who these students were and what they went through as dictated by the federal policy of ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man,’” stated NICC faculty member Wynema Morris. “This honoring is to show that Indians are now in control of their own education.” The quilt maker, Patti Provost, is an NICC alumna and a Genoa Indian School descendant. Her grandmother and aunt came from Wisconsin to Genoa, and her aunt died while at the school. Provost explained that giving the quilt to the museum was a memorial to all of the children who died there.
Students from over 46 tribal nations, ranging in age from 4 to 21, attended Genoa during its 50-year existence. The museum staff had written to the tribes to ask if they wanted to send their flags to remember their children who went to Genoa. Not thinking they would receive many, they now have the second largest display of tribal flags in the country, displaying flags from over 40 nations.
Students who did not know they had ancestors at the Genoa Indian School were successfully able to locate information with the kind assistance of the museum staff. After going through names of her Yankton lineage, Dabian Spotted Wood found no records of ancestors. However, when she offered names of her Ponca lineage, she was able to identify one of her ancestors. She shared this information with her family. For those who did know they had ancestors, all available ancestor information was kindly provided by museum staff from the growing research database. One student, Rose Buffalo Chief, knew she had ancestors who attended Genoa, but was given information about additional family members who also attended. She found pictures of her grandparents throughout the interpretive center.
Several NICC students have children who are currently the same age as their ancestors were when they entered Genoa, giving them a greater understanding of their aloneness and sadness in leaving their tribal communities and families. As a way to honor their ancestors’ experiences at Genoa, some descendants had their picture taken and included in the museum archives.
The field trip provided a way for descendants to get in touch with their family histories. One student learned that his grandparents met at Genoa and, upon graduation, were married. For others, the trip brought a greater understanding of a chapter in history that had been too painful to discuss. As a result of visiting the school, experiencing the kindness of the museum staff, and being encouraged to visit again, participants said that they plan to return with other family members.
The field trip ended with a prayer of gratitude and a group photo near the train tracks where their ancestors arrived at the school. As one student shared, “Let them see we have come to remember them.”