Susan Montoya Bryan
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Albuquerque City Council has adopted a resolution that acknowledges ongoing generational trauma caused by U.S. boarding school policies, that Indigenous children were forced to attend, and formalizes a commitment to work with Indigenous communities toward reconciliation and healing.
Councilors voted in favor of the measure during a meeting on Monday. Mayor Tim Keller is expected to sign the resolution on Indigenous People's Day.
The city has been researching the history of a public park where students of the former Albuquerque Indian School were believed to have been buried more than a century ago.
Dawn Begay, the city's tribal affairs coordinator, said during Monday's meeting that research into the site so far has determined that Navajo, Apache and pueblo students plus students from tribes in Arizona were probably buried at the site. She noted that many records were lost over the years and one of the effort's goals is to identify the students and their tribal affiliations.
Ground-penetrating radar will be used to study the site and another meeting was planned later this week to talk about how to keep moving forward.
"It really is kind of a first step for us as a city to move forward toward healing and also to be inclusive of all of our communities in Albuquerque and to understand some of the pain that people have lived with over the years of not knowing," Council President Cynthia Borrego said during the virtual meeting.
Indigenous activists became concerned earlier this year when a plaque memorializing the students from the former school vanished. They established a makeshift memorial of flowers and other offerings and demanded an investigation.
Nationally, the U.S. Interior Department is in the middle of its own investigation. The agency announced last week that it would begin tribal consultations as the next step of its review of the boarding school legacy. The feedback will help lay the foundation for future work to protect potential burial sites and other sensitive information.
"Tribal consultations are at the core of this long and painful process to address the inter-generational trauma of Indian boarding schools and to shed light on the truth in a way that honors those we have lost and those that continue to suffer trauma," Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement.
In Albuquerque, orange flags have been placed at the city park to signify the importance of the site as more permanent plans are worked out. Orange is the color used to symbolize the movement that is bringing more awareness to the troubled legacy of the boarding school system that sought to assimilate Indigenous youth into white society over many decades.
The Albuquerque Indian School was started in 1881 by the Presbyterian Church and came under federal control a few years later. The school closed in the 1980s, and the property was put into trust for New Mexico's 19 pueblos. The buildings eventually were torn down, and a tribal development corporation worked to make it a commercial hub.
The park is several blocks away. Only part of it is believed to contain human remains, and city officials said survey work done decades ago during a road construction project are the only maps they have that detail the boundaries of the former school's cemetery.