City Council formally recognizes the burial ground for Albuquerque Indian School students

By: - October 5, 2021 4:34 pm

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)

Albuquerque city councilors made an official step forward to assist with the next steps of the Native American grave site at 4-H Park. 

A resolution recognizing the cemetery where students from Albuquerque Indian School are buried at the city-run park was passed with a unanimous vote at the Monday, Oct. 4 Council meeting. 

Councilors Lan Sena, Isaac Benton and Cynthia Borrego sponsored the resolution. It is expected to be signed by Mayor Tim Keller on Monday, Oct. 11, during the city’s Indigenous People’s Day celebrations.

“I know that it doesn’t exactly bring justice to what has occurred,” Sena said during the meeting. “But I think it’s important that we do acknowledge what has happened and the trauma that continues to be experienced by our Indigenous communities.”.

This follows an official apology offered from the city that was read by Keller on Saturday, Sept. 25.

The issue drew attention again in June after someone noticed the disappearance of  a bronze marker identifying the park as a burial site between 1882 and 1933 for Albuquerque Indian School students from “Navajo, Zuni and Apache tribes.” City researchers also determined children — and maybe some adults — from the nearby Indian Health Services Hospital were also buried on the site. City officials from the Parks Department eventually said the plaque was reported stolen back in 2019. It had never been replaced.

Albuquerque Indian School operated from 1881 to 1981. It was first established by the Presbyterian Church and transferred to the U.S. government in 1884 to perpetuate the atrocious federal Indian boarding school policies.

“It didn’t seem appropriate just to replace the plaque,” Albuquerque Native American Affairs Coordinator Dawn Begay told city councilors. 

Begay’s office leads the city’s response. They’ve hosted several public meetings, conducted outreach with many tribal nations and assist the Parks and Recreation Department with appropriate measures to maintain a memorial created by the public this year at 4-H park marking the burial ground. 

The city’s Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs also outlined clear information about suggestions so far for what’s next for the gravesite and park, including an effort to close the site and limit recreation.

The idea to stop recreation at 4-H Park was supported by Councilor Benton. 

“If we know the boundary, plus some room for error, to know how to go in and close the stuff to recreation, I would support doing that as soon as possible,” he said, “again with the guidance of our Native American Indigenous (community).”

UPDATE: Friday, Oct. 8, at 8:30 a.m. 

From the Office of Native American Affairs:

“The City of Albuquerque Office of Native American Affairs is temporarily postponing the Community Input on the Future of the Albuquerque Indian School Cemetery at 4H Park virtual discussion originally scheduled for Oct. 8, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. The community input session will be rescheduled in the coming weeks.

As part of being responsive to feedback during the 4-H Park process, we would like to continue efforts to find families who are directly impacted by the burial site and ensure they are aware of and invited to participate in the next stage of the input process.

For more information on the site, please see

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