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Plan to use radar to search for graves at Shawnee Indian Mission on hold

Shawnee Indian Mission
Posted at 4:43 PM, Oct 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-25 21:47:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A plan to use ground-penetrating radar to search for graves at the Shawnee Indian Mission in Fairway has been put on an indefinite hold.

In an e-mail to residents Tuesday, Fairway officials said the plan is on hold following concerned by Shawnee Tribe Chief Ben Barnes.

A representative from the Kansas Geological Survey, which was set to conduct the research, confirmed the plan is on hold until Barnes feels comfortable moving forward.

Earlier this month, KSHB 41 News reporter Sarah Plake spoke to Chief Barnes, who said the tribe wants to make sure the search is accurate and to be involved in every step of the way.

“These sites are of utmost importance to Shawnee people,” Barnes told KSHB 41 last week. “These things are symbols - symbols of survival, symbols of state history, symbols of the Shawnee in Kansas, where our histories meet.”

Last year, KSHB 41 I-Team reporter Sarah Plake did a deep dive, looking through hundreds of pages of records from the Shawnee Indian Mission.

She discovered at least four kids died from sickness while attending the institution. It's unclear if they're buried at the site or elsewhere.

If the project resumes, on-site data collection could take around six weeks, with a review of data taking another six months.

The Shawnee Tribe told the state in a letter they want to be present for data collection.

None of the methods are supposed to disturb the ground in any way.

According to the state archaeologist for the historical society, the techniques used will send radio wave signals into the ground and record the reflections of those signals from anything beneath the surface. They say these methods have been used to identify potential burials on mission sites across the country.

The Shawnee Tribe is also in the process of developing a Cultural Landscape Survey, which they say would be "a significant resource for informing the survey and locations which may be important."

In a statement to KSHB 41, the Shawnee Tribe said it was thankful the project was put on hold.

We were heartened by the University of Kansas’s decision to place this project on hold and by their commitment to ensuring it is done the right way or not at all.

The approach preferred by the City of Fairway and the State Historic Preservation Office for this GPR was wrong from the start. There has been no consultation or even an acknowledgment of the cultural sensitivity involved with doing something like searching for the graves of deceased Native children.

It is important to know the truth about what happened to these children, but it is also important that the search for those answers reflects the seriousness of the endeavor.
The Shawnee Tribe