We all need to learn more about boarding schools and their legacy

This week the U.S. Interior Department released a 100-page report on the lasting consequences of the federal Indian boarding school system. You might recall last June Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo, announced the federal agency would investigate the extent of the loss of human life and legacy of the federal Indian boarding school system, a chapter of U.S. history many Americans know little to nothing about. 

This week’s report is the first of possibly many, and it deserves to be read by as many Americans as possible. 

Here are some of the investigation’s top-level findings:

Beginning in the late 1800s, the federal government took Indian children from their families in an effort to strip them of their cultures and language.Between 1819 and 1969, the U.S. operated or supported 408 boarding schools across 37 states (or then-territories), including 21 schools in Alaska and 7 schools in Hawaii. Of those 37 states, New Mexico had the third-greatest concentration of facilities, with 43, trailing only Oklahoma and Arizona.  The schools “deployed systematic militarized and identity-alteration methodologies to attempt to assimilate American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian children through education, including but not limited to the following: (1) renaming Indian children from Indian to English names; (2) cutting hair of Indian children; (3) discouraging or preventing the use of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian languages, religions, and cultural practices; and (4) organizing Indian and Native Hawaiian children into units to perform military drills.The Federal Indian boarding school system focused on manual labor and vocational skills that left American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian graduates with employment options often irrelevant to the industrial U.S. economy, further disrupting Tribal economies. 

Boarding schools in New Mexico got an early start.Two years after the first boarding school, the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, opened in 1879, the Presbyterian Church opened the Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) for Navajo, Pueblo and Apache students. Later, the school transferred to federal control.The Albuquerque Indian School merits several mentions in this week’s report, including five photos as I counted them of young Indigenous girls and boys in class, and of the building itself. 

Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Albuquerque Indian School, 1947-ca. 1964 (most recent
creator). (ca.

Critical race theory is a GOP bogeyman

Last weekend, Derek Matthews, the founder of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, asked GOP state lawmaker and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rebecca Dow to pull a campaign commercial that talked about “critical race theory. Standing on a stage with Dow in front of thousands of Native people who had flocked to the Albuquerque event from all over North America and beyond after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Matthews’s request hushed the crowd except for a smattering of clapping and whistling. Dow ignored Matthews and welcomed the Gathering of Nations attendees without responding to his request. It was an awkward moment. I want to join Matthews in asking Dow to pull the commercial.

Local redistricting efforts highlight tough choices

Screen capture of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee meeting on April 27, 2022

At a recent Zoom meeting of the Albuquerque Citizens Redistricting Committee, members furrowed their brows and squinted into their computer monitors, examining a newly drafted map that would balance population in each of nine City Council districts. 

Member Travis Kellerman, a self-described data-obsessed futurist, had asked the committee’s consultants to find a way to empower voters by dividing the council districts in a way that didn’t pack so many socioeconomically vulnerable residents into two districts in the city’s southern half. The new concept cut the city’s International District in half vertically, combining each piece with wealthier neighborhoods north of I-40. Residents of the condos around Uptown Mall would be in the same district as a large swath of lower-income southeast neighborhoods. 

Members asked longtime consultant Brian Sanderoff for some help interpreting what the changes would mean. 

“The International District could end up with two members or zero members [representing them on the Council] and that’s a risk that one takes,” he said. “So you need to ask what’s most important, to preserve the communities of interest or to unpack the socioeconomically vulnerable areas.” 

That debate demonstrates the tough choices that face residents and politicians this spring. Months after the New Mexico Citizens Redistricting Committee and the state Legislature wrapped up their work redrawing boundaries for legislative and congressional districts, smaller governmental bodies are tackling the tricky and politically charged task, with mixed results.

Take uranium contamination off our land, Navajos urge federal nuclear officials 

The gale-force winds that swept across New Mexico on Friday, driving fires and evacuations, gave Diné residents in a small western New Mexico community an opportunity to demonstrate first hand the danger they live with every day.Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) members were in the Red Water Pond Road community, about 20 minutes northeast of Gallup, to hear local input on a controversial plan to clean up a nearby abandoned uranium mine. It was the first visit anyone could recall by NRC commissioners to the Navajo Nation, where the agency regulates four uranium mills. Chairman Christopher Hanson called the visit historic, and the significance was visible with Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and other Navajo officials in attendance. As commissioners listened to 20 or so people give testimony over several hours Friday afternoon, high winds battered the plastic sheeting hung on the sides of the Cha’a’oh, or shade house, making it hard for some in the audience of many dozens to hear all that was said.  “This is like this everyday,” community member Annie Benally told commissioners, mentioning the dust being whipped around outside by the wind. “They say it’s clean, it’s ok.

ABQ city councilor’s political group steps up to PAC

Another political season. Another new political group with a forgettable but vaguely feel-good name.In March, a new entity registered with the Secretary of State: Working Together New Mexico. Albuquerque City Councilor Louie Sanchez, who represents part of the city’s westside, has said its purpose is to support the campaigns of particular candidates. Sanchez didn’t file a report last week saying how much the group has raised and spent despite a state deadline. Nor did he file a no activity report, a minimum requirement of groups that register with the Secretary of State under the campaign reporting act. Yesterday, six candidates in the June 7, 2022 Democratic primary wrote Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to request an immediate investigation of Working Together New Mexico for not filing a report. “This PAC has developed a website, launched a PR campaign, raised funds, and retained a prominent consultant…to say they haven’t spent $1,000 yet just doesn’t pass the smell test,” Tara Jaramillo, running for State House District 38 in central and southern New Mexico, stated in the press release sent out by campaign consultant, Neri Holguin. This analysis originally appeared in our Friday newsletter.

New Mexico in Depth wins awards in regional journalism contest

New Mexico In Depth has won six awards, including two first place prizes, competing against medium-sized newsrooms across New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. The honors, announced this weekend in Denver, were awarded in the annual Top of the Rockies contest administered by the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Elizabeth Miller took 1st place in the agriculture and environment news for a package of stories that highlighted water finally making its way to parts of the Navajo Nation, where 30% to 40% of Navajo people still are without running water because of a century of federal indifference. But the century-late federal aid doesn’t include money to connect homes and small communities to a massive pipeline project. She also trained her eye on the city of Gallup and its near-crisis in water availability just as a new federal project that promises help could be held up for four additional years due to federal decision making.

Money for abandoned uranium mine cleanup spurs questions about design, jobs

This story is part of a collaboration from the Institute for Nonprofit News Rural News Network in partnership with INN members Indian Country Today, Buffalo’s Fire, InvestigateWest, KOSU, New Mexico In Depth, Underscore and Wisconsin Watch, as well as partners Mvskoke Media, Osage News and Rawhide Press. Series logo by Mvskoke Creative. The project was made possible with support from the Walton Family Foundation. 

Uranium mines are personal for Dariel Yazzie. Now head of the Navajo Nation’s Superfund program, Yazzie grew up near Monument Valley, Arizona, where the Vanadium Corporation of America started uranium operations in the 1940s. His childhood home sat a stone’s throw from piles of waste from uranium milling, known as tailings.

The Redistricting Fight Isn’t Over

Thursday night, at the end of an interactive program on gerrymandering put on by the Keshet Arts and Justice Youth Leadership Council, the facilitator asked everyone in the audience (OK, only about a dozen of us) to summarize the experience in one word. “Frustrating,” said one older woman. “Exciting,” said one young woman. “Impressed,” I said. I was impressed by the way Council Co-chairs Juliana Gorena and Emani Brooks, both 19, used clips from the documentary Slay the Dragon to explain the history and impact of gerrymandering better than almost anyone I’ve seen try.