Tuesday, March 28, 2023

No Decision Made About Indian School Graves

Stakeholders Meet About Park Gravesite


It's been a little while since we gave an update on the Albuquerque Indian School cemetery we revealed was buried underneath the 4-H Park along the 12th St. corridor. Many unmarked graves of Native children from historic boarding schools started to be discovered and make national news. At that time it was noticed and made public that a plaque marking the burial site of AIS children had been stolen—though at what point in time no one knows. The however story isn't the plaque. The story is about how to honor and how to articulate the magnitude of what went on in those early boarding school years. Our Albuquerque community has grown so fast that the history of the Albuquerque Indian School is literally underground or has been bulldozed away.

So, what has happened since July? A meeting was held on August 10 with city stakeholders that was basically a historical rehash of the AIS property and Indian Boarding Schools in Albuquerque. We've read through the report that included a panel of community leaders including UNM professor Dr. Ted Jojola, who you may remember helped us uncover the long-lost history of the graves under the park.

Last week the city quietly posted the report from the meeting on its website, with no notice or press release letting the public or media know it was there and what the report contained. There is also a new link to a webpage now devoted to the AIS cemetery. The city included some infographics, laying out the same plan of action everyone seems to be in agreement with, which is to close it down to the public. Getting the machine rolling is a bit more of a struggle. That was apparent in the comments by some of the panelists that afternoon listed in the report. Jolene Holgate, who attended on behalf of Jovita Belgard representing the Coalition to End Violence Against Native Women, said in a prepared statement: "There are plenty of other parks in close proximity and other recreation areas that people can continue to utilize. There is no shortage of recreation areas in this part of town, in Albuquerque or in the state of N.M. Our vision also includes the mayor, Tim Keller; he should show up and listen to the community members he represents and consider their words wholeheartedly. The city has made statements about its cares and concerns about the site, but the main city representative has yet to show up to hear folks out. We call on Tim Keller to stand up for all the Indigenous people who reside here in Tewa territory and call this gravesite of 120 children a cemetery, and treat it with respect and reverence."

County Commissioner Debbie O'Malley understands the fragility of the situation but says she can also see the other side of the issue. She lives near the park and admits she never knew the cemetery was there. "Do we need to know for certain what is there? Is there a problem with finding that out definitively? There is a community that lives there now, a neighborhood that lives there now, and they rely on that park for group space," she said. "So to just say, we're going to shut the whole thing down, I don't understand." She elaborated, adding, "Definitely we should really look at renaming it. People are not sure how they should insert themselves in this; that's the hardest part. We should want to talk to the Native community. But also, that was a long time ago. All of a sudden they are supposed to have all the answers overnight. That's not fair, you know; they didn't do this, right? So the responsible party is on the government," said O'Malley.

Dr. Jojola chimed in: "Twelve months isn’t a long time, so most of that effort should be devoted to finding out what we know and what we don’t know about this place. Embrace it as a place-knowing project. In staging the next level of conversation, I would love to see a memorial park that honors the legacy of all Native people in the growth and development of the City of Albuquerque," he said. "We’re a major city that doesn’t have a place like that. I think it’s high time the city create that kind of place and acknowledge our contributions. I think these conversations may be a segue to accomplishing that."

Representatives from the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center were in attendance, and Michael Lucero, director of guest and entrepreneur experiences, read a prepared statement that was focused on quelling disinformation about IPCC lands that have other cemeteries of AIS children. They did however offer their help. "As an organization owned and operated by the Pueblos of N.M., we understand the sensitivity of the issue and the importance of not disturbing burials of ancestors. We ask that those wishing to engage in discussion of the topic take the time to research the issues before making harmful statements that have no factual basis."

If the above is any indication, there are a lot of hurdles to overcome, especially in communicating with the Native community. It seems as though everyone has the best intentions. In six months will we still be in discussion mode? Will anyone put any real actions forward during that time—like infrared radar testing or marking off the area so that it is not used for recreation by the community who are essentially dancing on the graves of children? The city says they have a plan of action that will be followed. What that plan is, and when it might actually happen, is another story we'll be following.

Read more of The Paper.'s ongoing coverage on the legacy of New Mexico's Indian Boarding Schools at abq.news/indianschools


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