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While working on the lesson plan for the Retro Report video “Forced Into Boarding Schools as Children, Native Americans Confront the Past,” I came across this investigative report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that focuses on Genoa Boarding School in Genoa, Neb. About midway through the video, there is talk about whether a graveyard exists on the property and if so, how many former students might still be there. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, so when this piece didn’t write itself, I let it sit.

For Native peoples, the question is never if there are children’s remains at these schools, but rather when they’ll be located and how many bodies will be found. Retro Report’s video provides important context to the conversation. By learning why these schools existed, we can better understand the governmental policies created to manage Native peoples in the United States (and Canada). These institutions operated under the guise of providing education, but their main purpose was assimilation and control, with children from the strongest tribes often targeted first. What better way to control a population than to use their children as leverage?

Many educators have never been taught about these boarding schools in their teacher preparation programs. All the feelings that are coming up for you will come up for your students, so it’s important to find a way to bring them back out safely. Teach about the sadness and hurt, but also about the hope and joy: How are Native peoples in your communities holding onto their languages and cultures despite the genocidal policies and targeted destruction of cultural ways?

Here in what is now known as Minnesota, 11 tribal nations exist within its borders. You’ll find language revitalization programs and cultural celebrations, and even a statewide program focused on changing the narrative about Native peoples in the state, Understand Native Minnesota. I encourage you to connect and build relationships with Native people in your communities so that you can better understand what work is happening and how you can help support it.”

Odia Wood-Krueger is a member of the Métis nation from Saskatchewan, Canada, and has worked in public education for over 20 years, with a focus on community engagement and curriculum writing.

This article first appeared in Retro Report’s education newsletter. You can subscribe here and view past newsletters here.