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Remembering the Boarding Schools

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The recent stories about the horrors of Indian schools in Canada has finally moved this conversation forward in the United States, with institutions having to reckon with just how many young indigenous people died at these sites of genocide. The city of Albuquerque is acknowledging this and trying to find a way to move forward on commemorating it.

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.

This stuff is extremely important. The history of American genocide toward the tribes did not end with Wounded Knee in 1890. Rather, it just moved to another phase, one that prioritized cultural genocide at the Indian schools and the theft of what land they had left through the Dawes Act. This killed languages, cleaved generations of tribes, and contributed in massive ways to the problems the tribes face today. To say the very least, we need to be talking about reparations here, as well as much more.

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