Ground search for site of Native American boarding school in Kansas delayed

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A plan to search for unmarked graves at a former Native American boarding school in Kansas is on hold due to a disagreement between the Shawnee tribe and state and city officials overseeing the site.

The Kansas Historical Society announced last year that the University of Kansas’ Kansas Geological Survey would conduct a ground-penetrating radar survey at the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway.

However, Fairway officials said last week the proposal was on hold indefinitely after Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes raised concerns that the tribe had not been consulted on the proposal. and future plans for the 4.86-hectare (12-acre) site.

The Shawnee Tribe lobbied last year for a survey of the site, formerly known as the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School. It was one of hundreds of schools run by government and religious groups in the 1800s and 1900s that removed Indigenous children from their families to assimilate them into white culture and Christianity.

Fairway City Administrator Nathan Nogelmeier said in a statement that the Kansas Historical Society (KHS), which owns the site, met with Barnes in August and offered him the opportunity to consult with him before work began.

On Monday, Barnes said as he left a meeting at the historical society he received a short document saying the organization had begun the process of working with the university on ground penetration work.

“It’s not a consultation,” Barnes said. “Consultation is a well-defined term. It’s not like I leave a piece of paper in my hands.”

Several experts told the tribe that the proposal was insufficient and did not comply with federal law regarding consulting tribes in such situations, Barnes said.

In his statement, Nogelmeier said the historical society and the town of Fairway expect the Shawnee tribe to try to persuade the Kansas legislature next year to transfer the land from the state to the Shawnee Nation.

“The KHS has officially opposed such a transfer because of its historical significance to Kansas, not only when it operated as a manual training school, but because of other events and periods related to the history of the Kansas,” Nogelmeier said. “Furthermore, Chief Barnes has made no commitment as to what he and the Shawnee Nation see as future land use if they take ownership of the site.”

While acknowledging that the tribe is not opposed to the transfer, Barnes suggested that state and Fairway officials try to use the issue as a political ploy and that the timing of last week’s statement raises questions. questions about whether the tribe is welcome in the process.

“I find this insinuation troubling,” Barnes said. “We’ve always been clear about our vision for the site. Whoever owns it, it’s all about protection and restoration. To say otherwise is blatantly wrong, and they know it’s blatantly wrong.”

The decision to inspect the mission grounds came after the US Department of the Interior last year announced a nationwide initiative to investigate federally-run Indian boarding schools. That wouldn’t have included the Shawnee Indian Manual Labor School, which was founded in 1939 and led by Methodist minister Thomas Johnson.

At one time it had 16 buildings on approximately 800 hectares (2,000 acres) and nearly 200 students a year aged 5–23. The current 4.86-hectare (12-acre) site is home to three buildings, which are on the National Site and State Historic Registers.

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