ABQ officials to begin radar work and plan for a memorial at boarding school gravesite

By: - November 18, 2021 4:58 pm

Community members erected a memorial at 4-H park, and an alter where there was once a plaque that had noted the unmarked gravesite. (Photo by Shaun Griswold for New Mexico In Depth)

Listen to the KUNM show Let’s Talk New Mexico hosted by Source NM reporter Shaun Griswold


Changes could be coming to 4-H Park in the area that was used to bury students and staff from the Albuquerque Indian School.

Another memorial will be placed in the area of the park where the gravesite is located, according to officials with Parks and Recreation and the Office of Native American Affairs. Right now, that place is known to be in the northeast corner of the park, a parcel less than one-third of the mostly grassy field that makes up 4-H.

“A memorial is definitely on the table, and it's almost a universal kind of consensus that people want to be able to properly recognize this area, and also show respect, but also use it as a site for education.”

– David Simon, City of Albuquerque Director of Parks and Recreation

It’s easy to spot because community members made their own memorial. There, people can see orange ribbons hanging from the tree that represent students who attended federal Indian boarding schools. People also placed small toys and items. It’s several feet away from an art installation the city owns that also memorializes the site’s history. It was built in conjunction with the Pueblo Cultural Center.

The City of Albuquerque is still taking public input on what should be done at 4-H Park. Comments can be sent to [email protected] You can also keep up with the city’s process and sign up to learn about future public meetings by visiting their website.

“We want to be respectful of the area while the public helps us make decisions about its long term future,” Parks Director David Simon said. “A memorial is definitely on the table, and it’s almost a universal kind of consensus that people want to be able to properly recognize this area, and also show respect, but also use it as a site for education.”

Simon spoke this morning on KUNM’s “Let’s Talk NM” along with Terry Sloan, the intergovernmental liaison with the city’s Office of Native American Affairs. They talked about the next steps in the process to address the gravesite at 4-H Park, which made news in June when a plaque denoting the gravesite was noticed missing.

It prompted a process that led the city to reach out to tribal communities for their advice, as well as a commission of tribal leaders to develop solutions and proposals for an adequate response.

A memorial is one of the solutions. So is closing the park.

“I think it is realistic,” Sloan said. “We have all options on the table at this point. We have the area marked off so that we’re apprising the public of what it is, what it’s about. And we’re asking people to respect that particular area. There’s so many thoughts and ideas about this particular issue that we are considering.”

First, the city wants to understand exactly how many remains are at the park and where they are located. Simon said a company has been contracted to use ground-penetrating radar, a practice accepted by Indigenous experts on gravesite studies as the best way to observe an area with the least amount of disturbance.

“We took sort of a research plan to a very important state panel called the Cultural Properties Review Committee,” Simon said. “Any sort of research plan was well discussed and vetted, because a site like this is sensitive property. We hope very much to get the (ground penetrating radar) work underway this year.”

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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. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.