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Your Turn, New Mexico: The Legacy of Indian Boarding Schools

National Archives at Denver (NAID 292873)
Students and teacher at Albuquerque Indian School, ca. 1895

Our July 22nd episode of Let’s Talk New Mexico focused on the New Mexico's Native American boarding schools, and it generated a lot of discussion among our listeners.  As so often happens due to time limitations, we weren’t able to include everyone’s input on the show itself. However, we have had an unusual number of listeners reaching out via email at LetsTalk@kunm.org ever since the show aired.  

We want to make sure that these important conversations continue, and that you, our listeners, get a chance to make your voice heard on the topics that affect New Mexicans. To that end, we’re going to start including follow-up posts for shows like this one that get a lot of feedback.

Here’s what you had to say: 

Elizabeth shared her emotional reaction to the discussion, and how the legacy of these boarding schools continues to play a role in the lives of her family members, even those who never attended them: 

My mother was born in 1938 in Shiprock. She was sent off to boarding school. She always said she liked it. My coping strategy for trauma is to block out all the yucky stuff and only remember the good things. My mom and I were alike in that way. 


I was raised by a single mom. I have two older sisters. All three of us girls were out of the house very early. My oldest sister was in ABQ gangs in the early 80s and my mom sent her to New Day when she was 14. By 15 she had an apartment on 12th St. My middle sister followed on the same path, being sent out of the house as a teenager and ended up getting an apartment. When I was 15, my mom started talking about sending me to a group home like New Day so I moved out. As a high school sophomore I was working about 30 hours a week to pay rent, food, and utilities. 


It seems to me like this may have been a learned behavior. Nearly everyone my mother knew sent their children away. She was sent away. That's how it was done.

Maria, like many of our listeners, was unaware of the unmarked graves in 4H park, although her daughter shared that she heard ghost stories when she attended the nearby Albuquerque Job Corps Center.  



I didn't go to the boarding schools here in Albuquerque, and I was not aware of all this happening in the past. I did go to The Albuquerque Job Corp Center in 1991 and had no idea the campus was involved where the babies were buried[…]. My youngest daughter went there as well 4 years ago and I asked her if she was aware of this and she did not. She does recall hearing other students sharing encounters at night such as spirits approaching them while they slept. [...]


I pray the children will return to their resting place and have peace. 

Listener Melanie wished to stress the importance of memorializing the children buried in 4H park. 


[We should] memorialize the children who died at these schools by placing a historial sign to read or a dedication plaque to the families of a generation that lost their children. 


This needs to be a remembrance of genocide of Native Americans in the United States, not some small paragraph in history books or in a museum, it needs to be heard and see what United States has done to Native American Indians. 


And finally, Jennifer Nanez of Acoma Pueblo says that it’s important for us to remember that many boarding schools still exist, although in many cases they’ve changed their missions. She was reacting to a statement by one of our guests who mentioned that the last of the boarding schools closed in the 1990s.



As a fourth generation Boarding School alumni, we must remember that Boarding Schools still exist locally and nationally and are active choices available for education for our Tribal youth. The “last of the schools closing in the 90s” was not an accurate statement, they are alive and well.   What we must acknowledge is that many take up this choice in part due to legacy, and also in part due to the failure of our local public school systems to provide adequate and culturally appropriate and relevant education and educational models for our youth.  Tribes, including the Pueblos are moving toward the creation of their own educational systems..., but it still can be an uphill climb— staffing, funding, transportation etc can all be barriers.  

Having said this, we need as Tribes to consider what role do Boarding Schools play today in our children’s education when in many cases it still means familial separation during a crucial development age for our youth. 



Thanks to all those who wrote in, and let’s keep these conversations going. We love it when you  share your insights into our show topics, so expect more of these posts in the future.

Ty Bannerman has been writing about New Mexico for over a decade. He is the author of the history book Forgotten Albuquerque and his work has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, Atlas Obscura, Eater, and the American Literary Review. While at the Weekly Alibi, Albuquerque’s alternative newspaper, he served as food editor, features editor and managing editor. He co-hosts two podcasts: City on the Edge, which tells Albuquerque stories, and Anytown, USA, which virtually explores a different US county each week. He has two children and way too many dogs and chickens.
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