Work aims to uncover history of boarding school burial site

Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press
Friday, September 24, 2021
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In this July 1, 2021, file photo, a makeshift memorial for the dozens of Indigenous children who died more than a century ago while attending a boarding school that was once located nearby is growing under a tree at a public park in Albuquerque, N.M. AP PHOTO

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque city officials plan to use ground-penetrating radar as they research the history of a site where dozens of Native American boarding school students are believed to have been buried more than a century ago.

Orange flags also will be placed at the city park to signify the importance of the site as more permanent plans are worked out among city officials, Indigenous leaders and advocacy groups. Orange is the color used to symbolize the movement that is bringing more awareness to the troubled legacy of the boarding school system that sought to assimilate Indigenous youth into white society over many decades.

Indigenous activists became concerned earlier this year when a plaque memorializing the students from the former Albuquerque Indian School vanished. They established a makeshift memorial of flowers and other offerings and demanded an investigation.

The plaque’s disappearance came as the U.S. government began a nationwide investigation into boarding schools, where reports of physical and sexual abuse were widespread and where children who died while attending the schools were often buried in unmarked graves. Part of the massive undertaking aims to determine how many children perished.

Recent discoveries of children’s remains in Canada and the investigation in the U.S. have stirred strong emotions among tribal communities, including grief, anger, reflection and a deep desire for healing.

City officials acknowledged the intergenerational pain caused by federal boarding school policies. While it can’t be undone, they said reconciliation is in order. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller offered an apology on behalf of the city in a statement issued Wednesday.

“This is important because we have an opportunity to learn and understand from our collective history and make meaningful change,” said Rebecca Riley, who is from the Acoma Pueblo and serves on the city’s Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs. “We deserve to understand the truth, determine our steps forward, and owe the Native children and staff who never returned home to do better.”

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