Walking Where My Grandmother Walked: My Trip to Genoa US Indian Industrial School Museum


Opinion. The GPS directed us down a residential street in eastern Nebraska to the Genoa Indian Industrial School Museum. To my surprise, what remains of the 640-acre site that was once the fourth largest non-reserve Indian residential school is just two buildings. They are close to each other, including a museum that originally served as a dormitory for the boys.

A block away, a sign reads: “US Indian School”. It was near train tracks that Native American children from more than 40 tribes across the country were dropped off and immediately sprayed with chemicals in case they got lice.

Among the children who attended the Genoa Indian School, which operated from 1884 to 1934, was my grandmother, Ellen Moore. She was 14 when she arrived in Genoa in 1920 from the Prairie Band Indian Reservation in Mayetta, Kansas. She was assigned to work in the bakery, according to school records.

My family doesn’t know much about my grandmother’s experience at the Genoa Indian School because she – like thousands of other Native American children who attended residential schools – never spoke of what had happened to her while she was there. This remained true for most of his 89 years of life.

A few years before she died, my grandmother went back to the Indian school in Genoa with my aunt Lorraine Bessemer and a few cousins. She had traveled from the Michigan town where she had settled in 1927 after marrying my grandfather and namesake, Levi Whitepigeon.

When she returned to Genoa several decades later, Grandma Whitepigeon still chose not to talk about her experience there. She was “really quiet” while they visited boarding school although she enjoyed the rest of the trip, my cousin June Whitepigeon Clemence told me this week.

My trip to Genoa last weekend was part of a personal journey for me to learn more about the school and my grandmother. I was on my way back to Michigan after the economic peak of the reservation with a side trip to the Mescalero Indian Reservation in New Mexico. The trip to Genoa was far from just a visit to see a tourist attraction. This was a crucial step in my own journey to better understand residential schools and how they affected Indigenous communities and families, including mine, for generations.

In the past year, following the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous school children at the Kamloops school in Canada, there has been growing interest from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in residential schools. Indigenous News OnlineThe editorial team of thought it was important to respond to the present moment with year-round coverage of this important topic and have since published nearly 100 Indian boarding school-related articles.

As our reporting on boarding schools intensified, so did my personal interest in going to Genoa. I knew I had to travel there. I knew I had to walk where my grandmother walked over 100 years ago.

So, on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I visited the Genoa Indian School for the first time in my life. A nice aspect of the day was that I had the opportunity to meet our senior reporter Jenna Kunze, who wrote about half of the stories Indigenous News Online has published on the subject of residential schools. Our editorial team works remotely, and since I live in Michigan and Kunze lives in New York, this was the first face-to-face meeting for us.

We entered the Indian School Museum of Genoa, which serves as an interpretive center, and sat down to watch a video that lasted about 15 minutes. We were both amazed watching the video, which featured a very “white” version of the boarding school experience with the narrator telling us that the boys were going fishing and the students were going to town for ice cream. I whispered to Kunze, “You’d think every day here was the 4th of July.”

The video presented a more sanitized version of Indian boarding school life than Kunze and our staff had reported in the past year. This was contrary to what was detailed in the Federal Indian Boarding Initiative investigative report released by the US Department of the Interior last month.

On sale in the museum’s gift shop was a book by a doctor who treated students who attended Genoa boarding school. I bought the book – Memoirs of Dr. Homer Davis: Physician and Surgeon, Genoa, Nebraska, and US Industrial School — which portrays the school in a favorable light for the Native American children who attended.

In the book, Dr Davis writes: “The children were housed, fed and well cared for… For all the pupils the care was good and simple nourishing food was provided.

The information presented by Dr. Davis did not match what Kunze and I learned from a museum volunteer docent. She told us that the girls who attended were usually fed, but the boys sometimes went without a meal.

Before the visit to Genoa, I thought I was going to be sad, but when I left, I felt more anger than sadness. I was furious because museum visitors see a video with a false narrative about what happened in Indian boarding schools. To be clear, the federal government did not provide 365 days of fishing and ice cream trips for these children.

Needless to say, I was very disappointed with my visit to the former Indian industrial school in Genoa.

My disappointment, however, reignited my commitment to ensuring that the true story of residential schools was told. As editor of Indigenous News Online and grandson of an Indian School Survivor, I am more determined than ever to ensure that all of our loved ones have the opportunity to tell their stories of Indian Residential Schools and how it affected their families and their communities. This is part of the healing work that needs to happen for our ancestors, our elders, our families and our future generations.

If you would like to submit news or share a personal story about how residential schools have affected you or your family, contact [email protected]

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About the Author

Levi Rickert
Author: Levi RickertE-mail: This email address is protected from spam. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded the 2021 Native Media Award Best Column for the Print/Online Category by the Native American Journalists Association. He sits on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at [email protected]


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