What should be done with the Albuquerque boarding school grave site?

Share your ideas today during the live, hour-long radio show “Let’s Talk New Mexico” on KUNM

By: - November 18, 2021 6:30 am

A memorial at 4-H Park continues to grow after being set up in June. Pictured here on Sept. 2, 2021. (Photo by Shaun Griswold/Source NM)

The boarding school era was a dark time in U.S. history, and the Albuquerque Indian School was the second-largest school of its kind in the country.

So much of the history is left untold. People who survived the worst era of students being abused for speaking traditional language are no longer alive. But the effects of boarding school policies linger in public education reform efforts, systemic failures and the trauma of U.S. attempts to eradicate Indigenous people passed through generations.

Do you know anyone that attended a Native American boarding school? Should the city of Albuquerque operate a park over a grave site? Should boarding school history be taught in public schools? And do students who aren’t Indigenous need to know about it? Join the conversation Thursday at 8 a.m. by emailing [email protected] or tweeting with #LetsTalkNM.

We’re hosting a live, hourlong radio show about the Albuquerque Indian School on KUNM News, which is broadcast around the state  a few points on your radio dial.

Thursday, Nov. 18, 8 a.m. (MT)

Let’s Talk New Mexico
89.9 FM Albuquerque
89.9 FM Santa Fe
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91.1 FM Cuba
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Or tune in from anywhere in the country at kunm.org.

Background

Albuquerque ’s history with federal Indian boarding school policies made headlines in June when a plaque denoting a gravesite at a city park was noticed stolen.

Across the street from the Pueblo Cultural Center is a cozy Albuquerque neighborhood with an entry point through 4-H Park and the gravesite. Although the plaque was missing since 2019, it didn’t gain much attention.

The bronze plaque marked a point in the city’s history when children from surrounding tribal communities attended the Albuquerque Indian School and did not return home. Between 1882-1933, at least 100 AIS students and some staff were buried on a plot in northwest Albuquerque that is now known as 4-H Park. The park is adjacent to the area that once housed thousands of Native American students for instruction at AIS.

When the marker was noticed missing, a memorial was set up underneath a tree on the northeast end of 4-H Park. People left cornmeal, toys and hung orange ribbons that represent people lost while attending boarding schools.

The city responded with an effort led by Native American officials to investigate why a park was built over a gravesite and to educate the public on the history of Albuquerque’s role in the boarding school era.

With the input of tribal leaders from Navajo, Zuni, Apache Tribes, the Ute (Southern and Ute Mountain) Tribes, Hopi and Pima (Salt River Pima and Maricopa Indian Community), the city was presented with a list of action items. Among them:

  • Close off the area around the gravesite and build a marker so people understand the significance of the site.
    Get an actual number of remains buried there and try to identify them for a proper removal and relocation to interested tribal communities.
    Create education materials to teach people about the boarding school era in the city.
    A formal apology from the City of Albuquerque.

On a rainy day in September, Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller offered an apology “for the grievous actions over the past decades that have occurred against Native American communities right here in the city.”

Keller’s apology was inside the Native American Community Academy, a charter school housed in the last standing building from the AIS era that focuses on Indigenous teachings through language and culture.

Indigenous communities face choices about Indian School gravesite in Albuquerque

Soon after, Albuquerque’s City Council approved a resolution acknowledging the grave site at 4-H Park, establishing an effort to address the dark time in the city’s history.

The All Pueblo Council of Governors took over the school and the land after it was operated for 100 years. The Council shut down the Albuquerque campus and Indigenized the boarding school model at the Santa Fe Indian School.

Development from the Pueblo leadership team transformed the AIS school site into commercial property. The Pueblo Cultural Center is a landmark destination for tourists and a gathering place for Native American to celebrate and practice ceremonies in the city.

The boarding school era became the self-determination era, and Native American educators run their own schools while continuing to fight for resources for Indigenous students who live outside tribal communities.

Today

What’s next for the grave site requires public input.

Indigenous people from across the Four Corners are being sought to give their ideas about what to do with the gravesite and the park. Non-Indigenous people that live in the city can also share their opinions.

The city is working out details to contract a company that will use ground-penetrating radar to examine the remains without digging into the ground. This will be done in conjunction with a team of Native American researchers that will guide the crew to properly handle the remains in a culturally appropriate way.

Teaching the history

In 2018, the Yazzie-Martinez education lawsuit set New Mexico on a path toward education reform that supports Native students. In the lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton ruled New Mexico did not meet its constitutional duty to provide adequate education environments for these students, as well students with disabilities, those living in poverty and students who have English as a second language. Her ruling set a mandate that the state must fund programs to meet the needs of these students, in part by developing culturally relevant curriculum.

Boarding school history underpins Yazzie Martinez findings on Native education

Creating lesson plans for K-12 students about topics like the boarding school era in the city is something the leaders would like to get into classrooms at Albuquerque Public Schools, the state’s largest school district with more than 6,400 Native American students.

Leaders in school districts in border towns like Gallup and Farmington, N.M., that serve a high population of Native American students are also trying to develop lesson plans that will meet the needs of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit and hopefully show greater education achievements for students.

This episode of Let’s Talk New Mexico will take a look at the history of the Albuquerque Indian School and how it’s connected to contemporary schooling reform guided by Indigenous education leaders. Your host for the episode will be Source New Mexico Reporter Shaun Griswold

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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