On Saturday afternoon the city held a reflection and memorial event for Albuquerque Indian School that was long overdue. The city has been hung up over what to do with Menaul Boulevard’s 4-H Park, the site of the former AIS cemetery where it is believed that an unknown number of students lie buried. A small group of just over 60 was made up of primarily city officials, community stakeholders and some concerned individuals gathered in the rain at the Native American Community Academy, the last standing building from the Albuquerque Indian School era. Just at the start of the programming, the winds picked up and the sprinkles started. Mayor Keller, ever the optimist, decided to progress until it really started raining. Only a few remained, soaked and huddled in the small NACA cafeteria, 30 minutes later.
“I want to acknowledge the intergenerational trauma that persists from centuries of oppression and erasure and to express our deepest apologies on behalf of the city of Albuquerque for the grievous actions over the past decades that have occurred against Native American communities right here in the city,“ said the mayor.
“Now, we can’t reflect on our history or speak of the future without first taking the proper acknowledgment of the trauma and the pain that persist due to the institutionalized violence of racism that occurs all over America and beyond. And right here in Albuquerque. I know that every institution in North America fundamentally, by definition of its existence, carries a dark legacy. That’s absolutely true for the city of Albuquerque. And we take responsibility for the way out of those actions, as best we can, that have been perpetuated in the name of harm and ignorance in the past. Now, I know that we cannot take away the pain that exists even in families—for those of you who are here today that have relatives who went to the school or even were buried in that park. But an apology is a necessary step for reconciliation,” he said. “In the years that followed that tragic era, the city should’ve done a better job honoring the sacrifices, the significance, of that site over there. And it should have done it in step with the Native Americans. We apologize for that neglect. We are striving to do better now for the current and future generations that are here with us.“
This apology was a long time coming for Albuquerque resident and Hopi Tribal member Eunice Dewakaku. Her family had known of a child who was sent to AIS and passed away while at the school and had not returned to the Hopi Tribe. Dewakaku was the first to make her way to give the mayor a hug in the middle of the rainstorm. “This was a long time coming. That’s what I have to say. I’ve been praying for this day for my whole life. I’m 65 years old. And I have been praying for this day since I was 5 years old. So I have been praying for this for 60 years.”
Kyle Tapaha spoke on behalf of the Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs (CAIANA). “The other commission members that are on the board have been contacted by the city. It was a fast-rolling ball and we [the commission] are happy to be involved as a collective voice for those that may not have a voice.” When asked to describe the day, Tapaha said, “We, we always look to the sky as Natives. We do see rain as a purifying event, and we also experience water from our bodies in the form of tears. The tears start off as sorrow and transform into healing, and it connects us all. I see this as a great opportunity to stand together and raise our voices for a good cause, for each other to remember our elders and be examples for our younger generations that are coming.”
Keller also spoke to the ongoing list of things that will need to occur as this process moves forward. “The commission’s recommendations are really important, but there are all sorts of laws and rules on parks, so it’ll definitely have to go to City Council. And so I’m kind of the admin sign off that then sends it to the council. And then there is a neighborhood check, there’s a parks advisory board and things like that. But it is slow, and it’s one of those situations where there’s like five groups. And if any group says, no, it’s too bad; because it might impact the process. So all five need to say yes. But I think that’s where the commission is the consolidator.”
It seems as though there is momentum in the process of what the next steps are concerning AIS and 4H Park. The mayor spoke about the process of ground-penetrating radar for research as one of the first steps to make clear what and where burial sites may be. There has been so much development over the years; this is essential in determining how to proceed. The is not lost on Albuquerque Tribal Liason Terry Sloan. He is the point of contact for the tribes with connections to AIS, as well as being responsible for reaching out to other local tribal communities. Thus far only a handful of tribal leaders have responded. But as Sloan noted, it is a long process. More consultation is in the works as well as ongoing research on the history of the school and the gravesite. He encouraged everyone that would like to help in the process to voice their concerns to his office and or at places like the upcoming stakeholders meeting.
The community stakeholders meeting is on Oct. 8 from 1:30-3:30pm. The meeting is to provide input on the design of demarcation, signs and memorial of the Albuquerque Indian School Cemetery at 4H Park. To provide input, please pre-register at: eventbrite.com/e/input-session-on-the-future-of-the-abq-indian-school-cemetery-at-4h-park-tickets-170353072626
If you just want to watch a webinar of the stakeholders meeting, please click the link below: cabq.zoom.us/j/86933958433?pwd=TFI4U2FSNkd4VzMwbnV6TTdwNFg0dz09 Passcode: 371206