City meeting on boarding school gravesite highlights the need for respect

Asking people to navigate personal or generational trauma requires trust-building and care, attendees say

By: - January 12, 2022 5:00 am

Zuni Knifewing perform a a memorial and honor song for those who attended Albuquerque Indian School Saturday, Sept. 25, at the Native American Community Academy. Mayor Tim Keller listens. (Photo by Sharon Chischilly for Source NM)

The time to listen is now. 

Albuquerque city officials hosted the first of several public forums Tuesday, Jan. 11, for people connected to the Albuquerque Indian School to share experiences and offer feedback about what to do with the gravesite at 4-H Park. 

Nearly 80 people were split into two group sessions moderated by a city official where they shared personal and often emotional experiences tied not only to the site but also to federal Indian boarding school policies. 

The city will host three more public meetings this week. The intent is to hear from community members and learn about the school’s history to determine an action plan for a plot of land where students from the school are buried in a public city park.

Indigenous communities face choices about Indian School gravesite in Albuquerque

Ron Solimon shared the story about how his grandparents met at the Albuquerque Indian School and discussed how the school helped to establish Native American community hubs in the city.

“There’s a lot of, like I said, affinity — and you could probably call it love — for that area,” said Solimon (Laguna). “And there is a lot of, unusual maybe in some people’s minds, truly sacredness to that area from the Pueblo cultural standpoint.”

The All Pueblo Council of Governors took control of the school institution in 1977 and continues to operate the legacy under a much different model at Santa Fe Indian School. Pueblo leadership also owns the land in the area, though not 4-H Park, and has developed retail space and a cultural center. 

A lot of information records have been lost or destroyed. So we're dealing with gaps in our history, and we're putting them together.

– Dawn Begay, Albuquerque Native American Affairs Coordinator

Community members also brought up concerns about support for people who share their personal history, diving into potential family trauma. Tyson King cautioned academics who might want to go into tribal communities and pry information from families about their experiences. 

“I did go through the boarding school system. Good or bad as that may seem, there’s a lot of perspectives,” said King (Diné). “What we want to do is we want to be respectful, because there’s a lot of oral history. There’s a lot of anything that’s not written down. So in order to get these people talking, we got to show them that we’re doing this in a very respectful manner.”

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Melvina Begay discussed her experience at a boarding school where she was abused. Although she did not attend the school in Albuquerque, she raised the point that the city efforts should be expanded to the rest of the state to get a complete history of the impact these schools had on Native American communities. 

“Please do not minimize what has gone on in the boarding school. I totally agree that there are some individuals who say it was a good experience for them, and that’s fine,” said Begay (Diné). “But there are others who did not, and you also have to remember the impact of the boarding schools on our Indian people. There’s that historical trauma. There’s that intergenerational trauma.”

These meetings are considered the research part of an overall action plan the city modeled. Records, documents and personal accounts from the Albuquerque Indian School are difficult to come by. 

Albuquerque Native American Affairs Coordinator Dawn Begay said so much has been destroyed, misplaced or never properly kept. Most who attended the school during the most atrocious period are no longer alive and their stories were often not shared with family. 

“It also happened too long ago and a lot of information records have been lost or destroyed,” said Begay (Diné). “So we’re dealing with gaps in our history, and we’re putting them together.”

More opportunities to speak this week

Untold Truths: Community Conversations About the Impacts of the Albuquerque Indian School:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 12 from 4:30-6:30 p.m., virtual
  • Thursday, Jan.13 from 1:30-3:30 p.m., virtual
  • Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 from 9:30-11:30 a.m., virtual

Registration is required. Please click here to register. All available information including notes from the first meeting and a detailed action plan can be accessed at cabq.gov/4hpark.

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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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