Indianz.Com > News > ‘A sacred site’: City seeks input from survivors of Indian boarding school
Albuquerque Indian School
Early class of younger girls in school uniform at the Albuquerque Indian School, circa 1900. Photo: National Archives
‘A sacred site’: City seeks input from survivors of Indian boarding school
Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Leaders in the largest city in New Mexico are convening a series of “community conversations” to address the harmful legacy of the Indian boarding school era.

The sessions, which begin next Tuesday, will be used to collect histories about the former Albuquerque Indian School. Though the facility closed decades ago, the pain suffered there surfaced again last summer, when a plaque commemorating the lives of young students disappeared from a city-run park.

Members of the Indian community in Albuquerque quickly came together to honor the memories of the fallen students, who primarily hailed from Apache, Navajo and Zuni communities, according to local records. The city has since closed off portions of a park where young people are thought to have been buried.

Last month, city also utilized ground-penetrating radar at the the 4-H Park to further examine the burial ground. The upcoming conversations will help guide what comes next for what is being called a “sacred site.”

“As we move through the process of discovering stories about the Indian School and what took place there, we must take the time to ask our ancestors for strength and healing for those who didn’t return home,” said Terry Sloan, Intergovernmental Tribal Liaison for the city of Albuquerque.

“The most sensitive areas of the park have been demarcated and closed to public access and we ask the community to be respectful of that space as it is a sacred site,” said Sloan, who is Navajo and Hopi.

In addition to the non-invasive radar tests, the city engaged in consultations last month with Indian nations. Leaders of the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Ute Tribe and various Pueblo tribes participated in the December 2 meeting, according to the parks department.

“A high priority for tribes and Pueblos, and the general public, is learning more about the site,” said David Simon, Director of the City Parks and Recreation Department.

“As we conduct additional research in step with Native American stakeholders, we also want to continue to learn about its history from those who were affected by it, and continue working together to forge the future of this sacred space,” said Simon.

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

The discussions come six months following the disappearance of the plaque at the 4-H Park, which is located a short walk from the site of the former boarding school. It read:

“Site of Indian Cemetery, 1882-1933

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

According to local tribal citizens, the plaque had gone missing in the past and usually was replaced by the city. It is not clear, though, when the latest disappearance occurred and the parks department last July said it hadn’t been removed by staff.

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 last June.

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 shortly before the situation in Albuquerque came to light.

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.

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.

Registration is required for the city’s upcoming sessions, titled “Untold Truths: Community Conversations About the Impacts of the Albuquerque Indian School.” The first one takes place in person at the Los Duranes Community Center on January 11. The remaining three meetings are virtual.

The schedule follows:

Tuesday, January 11, 2022 from 4:30-6:30pm at Los Duranes Community Center

Wednesday, January 12, 2022 from 4:30-6:30pm, virtual

Thursday, January 13, 2022 from 1:30-3:30pm, virtual

Friday, January 14, 2022 from 9:30-11:30am, virtual

In November, the Department of the Interior held consultations for the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative. The sessions, which took place virtually, were closed to the media.

Under an memo issued by Secretary Haaland, a report on the first steps of the initiative is due by April 1.

Albuquerque Indian School
An aerial view of 4-H Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shows the area in which Indian boarding school students are thought to have been buried. Image: City of Albuquerque

Relevant Documents
4H Park Burial Site Aug. 10, 2021 Stakeholders’ Meeting Report from City of Albuquerque

Recommendations on Albuquerque Indian Boarding School Cemetery Site/4-H Park from Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs

4-H Action Plan from City of Albuquerque [One-Pager]

Related Stories
Tim Giago: ‘I will never forgive them for what they did to us’ (January 4, 2022)
Albert Bender: Decolonization during the holiday season (January 4, 2022)
Secretary Haaland: The Power of Indigenous Representation on 52nd Anniversary of Alcatraz (December 3, 2021)
Native America Calling: Uncovering the history of U.S. boarding schools (November 30, 2021)
Tim Giago: Saying farewell to an old friend (November 29, 2021)
New York Times: Researchers Identify Dozens of Native Students Who Died at Nebraska School – The New York Times (November 17, 2021)
Native Sun News Editorial: Compensate survivors of Indian boarding schools (November 1, 2021)
Tim Giago: Bartering for butter at the Indian boarding school (November 1, 2021)
Tim Giago: Reminding myself of the good people at boarding school (October 26, 2021)
Secretary Haaland addresses National Congress of American Indians (October 13, 2021)
Howard Center: Historic trauma contributes to abuse in Indian Country (September 23, 2021)
Tim Giago: The dark legacy of the boarding schools (September 21, 2021)
Albert Bender: Truth, justice, and reconciliation for Indian boarding schools (August 13, 2021)
Arne Vainio: We all have an opportunity to redeem (August 12, 2021)
Native America Calling: Welcoming home children who died at Carlisle Indian School (July 29, 2021)
Rosebud Sioux Tribe hosts funeral services Indian boarding school students (July 19, 2021)
Photos: Lakota children spend final morning away from homelands (July 19, 2021)
Lakota youth return home after more than a century away at Indian boarding school (July 19, 2021)
Rosebud Sioux Tribe hosts prayer services in South Dakota for return of Indian boarding school students (July 16, 2021)
Rosebud Sioux Tribe hosts prayer services in Iowa for return of Indian boarding school students (July 16, 2021)
‘We are bringing them home’: Lakota youth on long overdue journey from Indian boarding school (July 15, 2021)
Cronkite News: Indian boarding school era under investigation (July 8, 2021)
City pledges action to honor lives lost at Indian boarding school (July 1, 2021)
Chuck Hoskin: Cherokee Nation acquires boarding school site (June 30, 2021)
National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition supports federal review of Indian boarding school era (June 25, 2021)
Navajo Nation hails federal investigation into Indian boarding school era (June 23, 2021)
National Congress of American Indians welcomes boarding school initiative (June 23, 2021)
Secretary Deb Haaland: Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative (June 22, 2021)
‘Our communities are still mourning’: Secretary Haaland announces federal Indian boarding school initiative (June 22, 2021)
‘I know that this process will be painful’: Secretary Haaland announces Indian boarding school review (June 22, 2021)
Secretary Haaland addresses National Congress of American Indians (June 22, 2021)