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by Don Bullis

New Mexico’s Old Times & Old Timers

Albuquerque's Indian School

The Albuquerque Indian School (AIS) served the educational needs of Southwestern Native Americans for just a bit more than 100 years; from 1881 to 1982. While much about the institution was controversial, it seems to have benefitted the Indian people much more that it harmed them.

Major B. M. Thomas, United States Pueblo Indian Agent stationed in Santa Fe, proposed an Indian boarding school in 1878. There was much debate about where such a facility should be constructed, who should run it, and so forth. From the beginning, it should be noted, the Roman Catholic and the Presbyterian churches were at loggerheads over the matter.

The latter group won out when the school opened on January 1, 1881, with the Presbyterian Reverend Sheldon Jackson in charge. AIS was housed in temporary quarters for about three years before it moved into a permanent facility located about a mile north of Albuquerque’s Old Town (on what would become, and remain, Indian School Road). The superintendent by then was Professor R. W. D. Bryan, a native of New York. In his report of 1885, he wrote this:

“The ultimate object of the Indian schools is … not so much the improvement of individuals as the gradual uplifting of the race. To this end it is important to guard against the formation of a wide gulf between parent and child, and to prevent the child from acquiring notions inconsistent with proper filial respect and duty. I am, therefore, anxious to have a local and neighborhood day school maintained; to have boarding schools multiplied within easy reach of their homes, so that the parents may often visit their homes.”

One writer noted that in 1885, “The school was very popular with the Indians.”

In May 1889, William B. Creager was appointed superintendent, and with him came the first major dust-up in school history. Creager complained that he had trouble enrolling students from some of the northern Pueblos, and it developed that a priest, Rev. A. Jouvenceau, had been advising Pueblo parents against sending their children to AIS. Jouvenceau also urged an investigation of Creager.

That problem was compounded when a couple of faculty women made non-specific complaints about the superintendent; charges which were unsubstantiated and soon dismissed. Historian Marc Simmons cited an unnamed “journalist” who wrote that Creager was “a sadistic monster who has conducted a reign of terror during the previous six years.” No particulars were offered and the journalist might have been expected to know that Creager served fewer than five years as superintendent (May 25, 1889 to March 31, 1884): not six years.

Several inquiries were made into such charges, all of which tended to exonerate Creager. It was suggested, however, that because of the bad publicity that attended the scandal, AIS was seriously embarrassed. Creager resigned on March 31, 1894.

Another flap came along in 1929 when a writer for Good Housekeeping magazine, Vera L. Connolly, published an item entitled “The Cry of a Broken People.” In it she alleged ill treatment of Indian children at government boarding schools, including AIS. United States Senator Sam Bratton of New Mexico, much concerned about the allegations, empanelled a committee to study the matter. Members included such notables as Albuquerque Mayor Clyde Tingley, District Court Judge M. E. Hickey, Child Welfare Association president Mrs. Max Nordhaus, among others.

The committee interviewed leaders from Laguna, Acoma, San Felipe, Santa Ana, Zia, Jemez, Sandia and Isleta pueblos. “Nothing but praise was elicited from the representatives of the Pueblos concerning the school.” Teachers and other employees of AIS were interviewed along with outsiders and students. Nothing of a substantially negative nature was discovered.

Once again the school survived.

The school was finally closed in 1982, but in the years afterwards, many writers and historians continued to disparage the institution. It was not all negative, however. In October 2013, Dr. Theodore “Ted” Jojola, University of New Mexico Distinguished Professor and Regents Professor of Architecture, and himself an enrolled member of Isleta Pueblo, wrote that while some boarding schools have been characterized as “oppressive,” “this was not the case for AIS.” He added

“… I would be so emboldened to categorically conclhat AIS was a happy and nurturing place. Indeed, this is the pervading sentiment of its alumni. Their memories are replete with events that bespeak of lifetime friendships, intertribal marriages and coming-of-age stories …”

Dr. Jojola led the effort to save the old Employee’s Building at AIS. The last building of AIS standing, it was designed by Joe Padilla of Isleta and built in 1931. The building is now home to the Native American Community Academy. Jojola’s efforts were recognized by the Historical Society of New Mexico with an award for historical preservation in 2014.

Some remnant of AIS remains after all.

 

Selected sources:

Theodore “Ted” Jojola, “Real history of AIS is being disparaged,” Albuquerque
Journal, October 27, 2013

 

Lillie G. McKinney, “History of the Albuquerque Indian School,” New Mexico Historical Review, 1945. (A Master’s thesis reprinted entirely in the New
Mexico Historical Review. It is the best source of basic information on AIS from the school’s
beginning until 1935.)