Remembering the 'Pueblo Training School'

(Courtesy photo - Indian Pueblo Cultural Center archives)

Members of the Albuquerque Indian School baseball team pose for a photo sometime in the 1930s.

History of Albuquerque Indian School lives on in recollections of past students

By Isaiah Montoya
Special to the Times

ALBUQUERQUE, July 9, 2009

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The Albuquerque Indian School existed from 1886 until 1981. Demolished in 1989, the plot of land lay unused, until now.

The Indian Pueblos Federal Development Corporation entered into a commercial plan with the city of Albuquerque for the land at Menaul and 12th Street.

This passing of an era has some, like 96-year-old Agnes Shattuck-Dill, Isleta, remembering their days at the school for posterity's sake.

 On June 7, 1882, Elias S. Clark, an Albuquerque resident, deeded 65.79 acres to the United States to operate an industrial school for the Pueblos and other Indians.

On Oct. 3, 1884, President Chester A. Arthur declared the tract reserved and set apart for Indian purposes. The Presbyterian Church operated a school for Indian students on the property under a contract with the federal government from 1884 to 1886.

In 1886, the United States (Department of Indian Affairs) assumed full control and operated the Indian school until 1980.

In 1881, Rev. Sheldon Jackson, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, opened the "Pueblo Training School" in Albuquerque under a contract with the U.S. government. The first class totaled 68 students, mostly Laguna and Isleta pueblo.

Anglo pioneer

According to Joe Sabatini, Near North Valley Neighborhood Association historian, "Clark was seen as an Anglo pioneer in a Rio Grande valley which only numbered 10,000 people at the time, mostly Natives and Spanish.

"Some were soldiers left over from the war that conquered northern Mexico for the U.S. in the Mexican War of 1846. He was probably Irish. Others bought farmland in the area as speculation or for actual farming."

"The first waves of Native students to occupy the classrooms were Navajo and Pueblo," added Sabatini. "There were not many rural public schools in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, which were not actually states yet.

"The Indian school was a boarding school where students lived in dormitories," he said. "The primary occupational mission of the school was vocational agriculture."

The area had been under strict Catholic rule through the longstanding Spanish occupation. The Presbyterians felt the Catholic rule inhibited spotting talented students and getting them to do things related to education and health care.

According to Sabatini, "Churches were built all around the school, of various denominations, for students and faculty. The Queen of Angels was Catholic (on Indian School Street on Pueblo property), Assemblies of God, Mormon, Baptist - all are churches that still exist!"

There were 40 different buildings on the campus including a childcare center, gymnasium and auditorium, arts and silversmith building, offices, dormitories, library, media center, and kitchen and dining hall. There was also a football field.

One of the earliest buildings was located where the Holiday Inn is currently located at 12th and Indian School. Over time, the campus filled the entire acreage.

Ted Jojola, Isleta, graduated from the school in the 1950s with minors in math and music, "So I could not only plan, but jam," He said.

His mother graduated from the school in 1937 and his father graduated from the school in 1934.

Catholic rule was pervasive and they utilized a four-point educational plan for the Pueblos: remove from land; remove and ban culture; merge with Anglo culture; and a military regime was stressed.

Shattuck-Dill started at the Indian school in 4th grade at age 10 in 1923. She graduated at age 18 in 1932.

"What really surprised me as I walked into the school was how many different tribes were represented," she said. "There were Pueblo, Navajo and Apache, mostly. I started out at the day school on Isleta Reservation. It only went up to third grade.

Military style

"The school was run in strict military fashion when I first attended," she added. "We could bring some of our own clothes and we were assigned work clothes. We marched to and from breakfast, lunch and dinner. The juniors and seniors cooked all the food and also served it.

"The school was kept up by students also," she said. "We each were assigned chores, because we lived in dormitories on school grounds. We would parade around the football field in blue and white uniforms."

The students were on a rotating half-a-day academics and half-a-day industrial schedule. Girls could only take home economics but boys had much more freedom. They did embroidery, cooking, sewing and laundry.

"We'd make teachers mad by eating pinons," said Shattuck-Dill. "All the teachers were white except for one Indian teacher. Sometimes I would hide under the bed for head count because I was a little mischievous."

The school allowed tribal meetings and on Saturdays some of the older girls got city passes and they'd go to town. Albuquerque was almost two miles away then. They'd be dropped off and picked up in old trucks. On Sunday they could pick a church to go to.

"The student populations were susceptible to carrying contagious diseases and bad hygiene," said Jojola. "Many died. Some tribes like the Hopi and Navajo refused to accept bodies from the school and these children were buried in a cemetery marked with a small plaque.

"The agricultural focus was evident in the dairying, animal husbandry and, in fact, the school once produced the champion cow of the whole Indian service," said Jojola. "The underlying legacy of AIS was overshadowed by (Santa Fe Indian School), but it was silversmithing, leatherwork, weaving and athletics.

"In fact, once," he said, "the school's basketball team roundly beat UNM!"

There were ways to make extra money, according to Shattuck-Dill.

"We would go to houses of employees built right around the school and that's how we made money," she said.

Ramalda Shattuck, nine years younger than her sister Agnes, went in the late 30s and early 40s, graduating in 1942 and taught later at the school.

"I wanted to serve my people," she said. "I took charge of the Navajo five-year program, which brought kids off the reservation who had never been educated and were already teenagers."

Pueblo plans

In the 1960s, the Pueblos decided they wanted a portion of the AIS property deeded to them for economic development purposes, including the development and operation of a cultural center.

Eleven acres was set apart for what is now the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and Four Winds Smoke Shop.

In 1981, the Pueblos formally petitioned the Unites States for the transfer of the remaining AIS property. On July 5, 1984, Ken Smith, assistant secretary of the Interior for Indian affairs, signed a deed conveying 44.2 acres of the AIS property to the 19 Pueblos, which they held in fee simple as tenants in common.

Soon after the Pueblos acquired the land, they began exploring the possibility of placing the parcel under the trust of the U.S. Trust status was finally accepted in 1993.

The land within the AIS property sat idle for many years. Consequently, the 19 Pueblos formed the Indian Pueblos Federal Development Corporation.

A few years before finally closing Albuquerque Indian School, an environmental modification project started with staff and students to renovate dilapidated buildings and beautify the campus. It failed.

In April 1981, Interior Secretary James Watt announced that the Albuquerque Indian School would take over the Santa Fe campus of the Institute of American Indian Arts.

The Albuquerque Indian School had only 176 students in 1980-81. Watt's decision came only weeks after 22 students at the Albuquerque facility were exposed to carbon monoxide because of a gas leak in the aging building that houses the boarding school.

"In 1981 the school closed and by 1989 the grass and trees were dead," said Sabatini. "Weeds were growing and dust was blowing into the neighborhood on the east."

This led to the creation of the Indian School Neighborhood Association, now the Near North Valley organization.

"The main concern of the residents was the rampant derelicts that were sleeping in empty buildings, tearing the fences, ripping branches off trees and burning them, which led to several building fires," said Sabatini.

In December 2002, the Pueblo corporation negotiated an agreement with the city and city ordinances were adopted by the governing board.

"After the buildings were razed neighbors worried that a casino would soon open," said Sabatini. "A group called Neighbors for Rational Development arose and they said, 'We don't care if you are a sovereign nation, you still must interface with the city.'"

In 1993 Manuel Lujan Jr., the New Mexico congressman, granted trust status of the land. A casino was not granted.

The Pueblo corporation thought that money could be made making a hotel and restaurant on the site.

"IPFDC wanted to make IPCC a gateway to the North Valley," said Sabatini. "They foresee it as a tourist destination."

The city met these ideas and pushed for a traffic plan along with the economic development plan.

"The aftermath of the school was that it shaped the region because there was an exchange of skills between city and Pueblo," concluded Jojola.

The land is plotted and paved for a business district, right across from the cultural center on 12th Street.

Dim memories, though, told in spoken word, will pass the history of Albuquerque Indian School to Natives in the future, as is the Native way.

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