ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Community members are coming together to try to make a wrong right. A plaque that marked the burial site for children who died at a Native American boarding school is gone. Now, the story is getting some national attention.
National publications are highlighting the incident which comes just a week after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a probe into the Native American boarding schools that operated for decades. Some members of the public noticed the plaque was missing this week when they went to visit the site.
“It was really a violent experience for Native American people. We have many families, right, our elders, our family members that experienced a lot of violent trauma in Indian boarding schools,” said Jovita Belgarde, a member of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. “People are re-experiencing that pain and that trauma, and to find out it was recently removed, feels like an attack and it’s really hard.”
After seeing the missing plaque, someone left behind red handprints, symbolizing the silencing of Native Americans. The marker was located behind the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque in what is now known as 4-H Park.
Dozens of children from the Navajo Nation, Zuni Pueblo and Apache tribes reportedly died there between 1882 and 1933. The school was designed to assimilate indigenous children into white society, but those children say they were beaten, starved and abused. Members of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women say now is a good time for leaders to make a change, like turning it into a permanent memorial.
“For many years, indigenous folks in Albuquerque have called for an investigation into that mass grave site and not a lot of movement has happened,” said Belgarde. “This is a mass grave site that has been turned into a park. On top of it, people are having barbecues and picnics and football practices and that feels like a continuation of violence that people are playing on top of the bones of our children.”
The plaque’s removal is even getting national attention by the Washington Post as advocates push for an investigation into the site to determine how many children are buried there. The City of Albuquerque will work with leaders from tribes, pueblos and others to see what steps should be taken next. They’re also urging the public to respect the significance of the site.
The coalition has a healing event planned there on July 17. They’re asking those who attend to wear masks and social distance.
There is now a push in America and Canada to investigate these sites. There were more than 350 of these schools in the U.S. Over the past month, 1,100 unmarked graves were found at former Native American boarding schools in Canada.