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Jonathan Sims is a media producer and former appointed official at the Pueblo of Acoma. He covers news and writes a column on Indigenous People's issues for The Paper.

The Presbyterian Training School for Spanish Speaking Boys 11th grade graduating class of 1906. The students pictured in the photo are (bottom row, left to right) James Gonzoles, Timoto Romero, Cosme Garcia, Av. Lucero (top row, left to right) Charles Cordova, Clifford Perea.

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The year was 1881 and the Pueblo Training School became the first established boarding school in New Mexico and Arizona. This original building located in the Duranes area of Albuquerque was the work of Minister Sheldon Jackson, who was awarded a contract from President Grant. The government was awarding Presbyterian missionaries contracts for schools at the time. Just a few years later, the land was purchased and donated by a group of Albuquerque citizens to form a new boarding school just northwest of the large 67-acre Albuquerque Indian School property. 

The history here is a little bit confusing; Menaul’s historical records don’t include records of the Presbyterians operating Albuquerque Indian School at its founding. Nonetheless, it is stated in historical data compiled by AIS historian Joe Sabatini that AIS was actually contractually operated by the Presbyterians at its start. Current Menaul President and Head of School Dr. Lindsey Gilbert mentions that possibly the Presbyterians didn’t agree exactly with how the mission of education was carried out by the federal government and decided to start their own school.

So within five years, the Pueblo Training School closed—mostly due to AIS’s large enrollment. In 1896 it was re-opened with a focus on educating Spanish-speaking boys from Northern New Mexico. During this decade both Protestant and Presbyterian ministries had formed day schools in the Spanish-speaking communities in places like Truchas, Mora and Las Vegas. The schools would farm their older student into places like the Training School for Mexican Boys. There was also a boarding school for Mexican girls in Santa Fe named the Matilda Allison Industrial and Boarding School for Mexican Girls, which would also eventually close and send the first class of girls to Menaul. The Reverend James Menaul passed in 1897, and the school bears that name in his honor.

The Resting Place

Today the school still carries on its boarding tradition, but with international students in its dormitory. It continues to be a place for minority youth to find a quality education. The school site of Menaul has shrunk dramatically over the years.

The historical society does not have any records of any children’s cemeteries on the property. They advised we contact Sunset Memorial Park just in case. Sunset was purchased by Mr. French of French Mortuary fame in the summer of 1907. The land at the time was used as the dairy for Menaul. Sunset actually is one of the few cemeteries in town that has not changed hands or been bought out by a management company. Deanne Back of Sunset Memorial spoke with The Paper. and helped us find another plot of burial sites we had come across in research. An older map was provided to us in a packet of materials about AIS from Dr. Ted Jojola of UNM, who has been researching New Mexico Indian Boarding Schools for decades. Looking at the hand-drawn sketch of a map shows a cemetery site in ABQ that has a large section of graves sites labeled simply, “colored,” “Indian” and “stillborn.” It is not clear whether these were originally Sunset grounds or neighboring Fairview Cemetery grounds. Ms. Back assured us this didn’t match their oldest sections and the number convention was different. She agreed that this was most likely Fairview and that, “We keep impeccable records here at Sunset; they have been housed here and have not changed hands in over a hundred years. We don’t have any records in relation to AIS children buried onsite, but it is of historical interest to someone like myself,” she said.

After searching Sunset, Fairview Cemetery was next. The office did offer me a map and pointed me to a no man’s land area far from view when asked about the “oldest portion of the cemetery.” The desk told me that they have no records for that area. Fairview also mentioned that the area is not managed by them, but rather by the county. The entrance to the “historical” portion sits alongside the entrance to the Congregation Albert burial plots. There is no grass; trash is found strewn about the tall obelisks with dates in the 1800s.

The large square section of graves sites was labeled simply, “colored,” “Indian” and “stillborn” on the document. Those plots are still within the property confines, but largely unmarked. You could easily mistake these portions for “unused land,” which is apparent by the tire tracks over the area. There is not a single marker to denote who is buried under that dirt. It is sad, really. We Natives were not people enough for a gravestone at that time. Yet here we are, a hundred years later, asking the city to help us define these places as a moment of teaching and reflection for the larger community, and a place to heal for those relatives that need it. 

The Apology

Back to modern-day Menaul School. Interestingly enough, before any of the boarding school era atrocities became hot news this summer, the Presbyterian organization made a public apology to Native peoples for the many wrongdoings and forced assimilation on their part over history. At their international conference in 2016, an “Act of Apology,” was issued wherein the community as a whole apologized. More specifically, Presbyterian organizations that serve tribal communities apologized to “individuals who were physically, sexually and emotionally abused as students of the Indian boarding schools.” Members of the organization also traveled to Alaska and Hawaii to apologize to the Native people.

This is part of the reason Mr. Lindsey Gilbert decided not to rush and make a statement when AIS became big news. “I didn’t have a reaction initially because it didn’t hit us directly. We have Native leadership on our board and in our alumni community. I always want our response to things to be genuine and not just symbolic in nature. Our mission has always been focused on the church’s gift of all children being able to receive the same opportunities. We do, however, support any planning from the community and understand the gravity of the situation.”

The following is an excerpt of 222nd General Assembly’s apology issued in 2017: “Throughout this painful history, our Native American brothers and sisters shared their Vision with us and stories of suffering due to our church’s involvement in the operation of these Indian boarding schools and the removal of Native American children from their families, their communities, their language, and their culture. In addition, they shared the personal and historic pain that they still bear. Finally, they shared with us their strength and wisdom born of the life-giving dignity of their communities and traditions and their stories of survival.

“We acknowledge that we are poorer because we did not truly listen to them. The image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and misshapen, and we all have fallen short of what God intends us to be.”

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