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Dear Secretary Haaland:

This story also appeared in Commentary

I am writing to you to express my apologies for long-ago wrongs in which my birth family participated—the effort to remove Native American children from their families and culture and teach them to become “white” like us. 

My family moved here from East Texas in January 1950. Coming from a little town, even in those days, Albuquerque was a much larger and very different culture than what we had experienced. Adding to our confusion was our every weekend viewing of Western movies starring “Hopalong” Cassidy, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. We kids were shocked that “cowboys and Indians” weren’t on every street corner in ABQ! 

We joined the First Baptist Church downtown. At some point, when I was still in grade school, there was a call from our church for families to take in Native American children from the Indian School here in Albuquerque. They were to stay on weekends and during holidays and summers. The only exception was Christmas, when the children were allowed to go home. My parents agreed to participate, truly believing they were doing the right thing helping someone—something they did repeatedly throughout their lives. In today’s world, such a program that removed children from their families would create a groundswell of anger and derision. Given our history in this country, many such “good intentions” programs are seen very differently.

While this was very long ago, and my memory is somewhat spotty, I remember two such female students, both in their teens, who were with us at different times. I shared my bedroom with them and enjoyed getting to know more about their culture, feeling very sad that they saw so little of their own families. I was too young to grasp the true wrong in this “no choice” program that caused so much pain.

I was married and living in another state when another young Navajo teen from the school came to be with my family. I knew her from our visits back to ABQ, and kept up with her life long after she had graduated and headed off to college. While I truly acknowledge that the program itself was deeply wrong, to us she became a member of her “second family.” 

She went on to have a very successful career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, merging her heritage with the education and experiences she had outside of her life on the reservation. After retiring and returning to ABQ, she had the opportunity to spend much time with her extended birth family. She also continued to be devoted to helping my mother in her last years until her death in 2004. We have lost touch with her, but I hope she recalls us fondly, as my brother and I do her. 

Again, my deepest apologies for the great wrong in which we participated, believing we were helping young people have a better future. We ask not forgiveness for our ignorance and hubris, but perhaps a better understanding of those families who cared deeply for these children in spite of the circumstances that brought them to us. I hope this letter leads to more families who participated in the program, and those who were affected, coming forward to talk about their participation its effect on them. How truly tragic it all is.

So, again, while we don’t deserve forgiveness, we can but hope that this letter is one tiny step in hoped-for healing between our two cultures. Thank you for your time.

Most sincerely,

Marti Wolf

Albuquerque Resident  

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