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Albuquerque Indian School
Early class of younger girls in school uniform at the Albuquerque Indian School, circa 1900. Photo: National Archives
City pledges action to honor lives lost at Indian boarding school
Thursday, July 1, 2021

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — Officials here plan to work with tribal and Native leaders following the disappearance of a plaque commemorating the burials of Indian boarding school students.

The plaque recognized the loss of Apache, Navajo and Zuni students who attended the Albuquerque Indian School. It had been been placed at a park not far from the site of the former institution but it is no longer there, for reasons unknown.

“Our department has been made aware of a missing plaque at 4-H Park, which denoted the area as a final resting site for students from the Albuquerque Indian School,” Dave Simon, the director of Parks and Recreation in New Mexico’s most populous city told Indianz.Com in a statement on Wednesday.

“The plaque was not removed by any city staff,” Simon added.

The missing memorial, however, was noticed by members of the local Indian community. Earlier this week, some of them erected their own tribute to the children who lost their lives during an era that is once again come under scrutiny for its role in eradicating tribal cultures, languages and way of life.

“We came together to honor those children this morning and made a new space to make offerings,” Jovita Belgarde, who hails from Ohkay Owingeh, the Pueblo of Isleta and Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, wrote in a social media post on Tuesday.

The plaque had been a common fixture at 4-H Park, a 3.3-acre facility located just a short walk from the site of the former Albuquerque Indian School. It reads:

“Site of Indian Cemetery, 1882-1933

Used primarily for burial of Albuquerque Indian School students from the Zuni, Navajo and Apache tribes”

The Presbyterian Church opened the Albuquerque Indian School in 1881, at a time when U.S. law and policy aimed to “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” by placing tribal children in educational institutions, often far from their homes and families.

“Assimilation policies carried out by the same department that I now lead the same agency that tried to eradicate our culture, our language, our spiritual practices, and our people,” Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, said in announcing the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative on June 22.

Haaland, a former member of Congress whose district includes the city of Albuquerque, said the investigation will pay particular attention to the lives lost at Indian boarding schools. The U.S. government has never taken up such an initiative, despite decades of work by tribes and tribal advocates to address the harmful impacts of the era.

“We must uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of these schools,” said Haaland, who ancestors were taken to Indian boarding schools, including one more than 1,900 miles away from her Pueblo communities in New Mexico.

“This investigation will identify past boarding school facilities and sites, the location of known and possible burial sites located at or near school facilities and the identities and tribal affiliations of children who were taken there,” Haaland said in remarks to the National Congress of American Indians.

Death was sadly a known occurrence at Albuquerque Indian School. A hospital was located on the site to tend to children who contracted diseases, like tuberculosis, that weren’t always common in their own tribal communities.

Indianz.Com Video: Secretary Deb Haaland: Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative

As the plaque notes, a number of Apache, Navajo and Zuni children died while attending the school, far from their homes. The Pueblo of Zuni, for example, is more than 150 miles from Albuquerque. The nearest Apache community, home to the Mescalero Apache Tribe, is about 200 miles away.

While the school was started by the Presbyterian Church, it was soon taken over by the U.S. government in 1884, according to the city of Albuquerque. It operated until 1982, although the plaque at 4-H Park only refers to burials of Indian children up until 1933.

The former boarding school site is now held in trust for the 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. A number of economic development operations, including a building that is leased to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which Haaland oversees as the first Native person to lead the Department of the Interior, are located there.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center
The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center is owned and operate by the 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico at 2401 12th Street NW in Albuquerque. 4-H Park, a city-owned facility, is located at 1400 Menaul Blvd NW. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Across the street is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, which is owned and operated by the Pueblo tribes. 4-H Park, which is owned by the city and not by tribes or the federal government, is located on the back side of the facility.

Director Simon of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation said his department will work with tribes, as well as the Albuquerque Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, to discuss how to move forward, following the attention brought to the site by Indian residents.

“A public art piece and second plaque remain in place at the park that also references the history of the site,” Simon said in reference to the tribute created by locals. “Our department, along with the City Native American Liaisons, will now be working with leaders from the tribes and pueblos, the City of Albuquerque Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs (CAIANA) and historical experts, to determine what steps should be taken next.”

“As we continue to work with the respective leaders on this issue, we urge the public to respect the cultural and spiritual significance of this site,” Simon said in his statement.

About 4.7 percent of Albuquerque’s population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Many hail from the Apache, Navajo and Pueblo tribes whose children were sent to the boarding school in the city.

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