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This empty lot in Phoenix could hold one of city's darkest secrets. A federal investigation could tell us more next month

It’s fenced off, full of trash and sits forgotten as the rest of the once-160 acres of the former Indian residential school has found new life.

Dacia Johnson (12 News)

Dacia Johnson/KPNX

Published: 2:52 PM MST March 8, 2022
Updated: 5:05 PM MST March 9, 2022

There’s an empty corner lot at the intersection of Central Avenue and Indian School Road in central Phoenix.

It’s fenced off, full of trash and sits forgotten as the rest of the once-160 acres of the former Indian residential school has found new life.

Surrounding much of that empty corner lot is Steele Indian School Park, a community space home to several festivals each year, where volleyball teams play on sand courts to the north, and VA Medical Center visitors find solace in the Entry Garden to the southeast that spirals into a peaceful pond.

But in the sunniest city in America, that empty corner lot on Central and Indian School might be hiding one of Phoenix's darkest secrets: Graves from a time when the land was part of Phoenix Indian School – a place where Native children were stripped of their identities after being torn from their families and tribal land, and taken to live, work and learn how to be White. 

The mystery of the corner lot is consistent with the history: No one cared enough to mark it.

Credit: Dacia Johnson/KPNX
An empty lot at the corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road in Pheonix.

Phoenix Indian School was one of more than 350 Indigenous boarding and residential schools in the U.S. – 51 of the facilities were in Arizona.

For the last year, the federal government has been investigating these Indigenous boarding schools after hundreds of bodies of indigenous children, some as young as 3, were found at former residential schools in Canada.

The U.S. investigation was spearheaded by Deb Haaland, the nation's first Native American Secretary of the Interior.

A full report is expected to be complete on April 1.