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Redemption Song

For the Santa Fe Indian School, Paolo Soleri’s demise is a beginning, not an end

July 21, 2010, 12:00 am

Despite the few students on campus, this summer is still a busy time at the Santa Fe Indian School, particularly as construction on the new wellness center continues.

Indeed, the school’s campus has grown and shifted through time. According to Sally Hyer’s collected oral history of the school, One House, One Voice, One Heart, the federal government built the original school building in 1890. She describes the building as having two side wings, and following the standardized federal guidelines for off-reservation schools: “It was designed to be cheaply built and easily enlarged. Red brick with two stories and a pitched tin roof, the building did not relate in any way to the architectural traditions of the region.”

Expansion occurred over the next two decades: According to Hyer, male students planted hundreds of fruit and shade trees, and were put to work constructing new buildings. In the 1930s, 16 of the buildings were remodeled in the Spanish Pueblo Revival style—a move reflected throughout Santa Fe as the city began revamping its buildings and Plaza to create the appearance of a unique regional style. Also by the 1930s, students could choose to come to the school; they were no longer forcibly removed from their communities and families.

Within a few years, 13 new buildings—including ones designed by architect John Gaw Meem—were added to the old campus. Dorms were remodeled—students shared smaller rooms, and were no longer made to sleep on porches or in beds lined up within long rooms—murals were added to the dining hall and other buildings, and Hyer says that the school began to cultivate a reputation as an Indian art school.

But the school closed in 1962. Students could either attend public schools or the Albuquerque Indian School, and the Institute of American Indian Arts moved onto the campus. A few years later, the All Indian Pueblo Council—which represents the 19 pueblo tribes in New Mexico—put the newly enacted Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act to the test and took over the Santa Fe Indian School. By 1981, the institute had been relocated and the Albuquerque Indian School students, grades seven through 12, had been moved back to the Santa Fe campus.

In 2000, the council solidified its control of the school when Congress transferred the campus to it from the BIA. Within a couple of years, the council had begun work on a brand-new campus and, in 2008, it demolished almost all of the old campus. A few buildings remain, which house administrative offices, the Indigenous Language Institute and the Tierra Encantada Charter School. But for the most part, there is nothing but bare, flattened ground. Even the groves of trees are gone.

Partnerships with other entities, such as the Department of Energy and Intel Corp., have provided the Indian School with a host of new student facilities.
Credits: Ana Goñi-Lessan

Continuing the tour of the campus, Chavez defends the decision to demolish most of the old campus. When the federal government transferred the land and its buildings, it did not provide the cash to maintain the deteriorating buildings.

“We tried to work with the federal government, to put them back on their inventory list, but they didn’t want them back,” he says. “We worked for a few years to find a vehicle to do that but, in the end, they said they were not going to take them back.” Unwilling to bring the buildings up to code or to address issues like handicap access as well as environmental and public health threats such as asbestos, the council instead spent $1.5 million on the buildings’ demolition.

But it wasn’t just money. The old campus also represented a period of time during which Native children were taken from their families and forcibly indoctrinated into the mainstream, Anglo-American culture. During the school’s early years, representatives from the Santa Fe Indian School would take children from the pueblos to bring them to the school.

In her oral history, Hyer relates the recollections of a woman who was taken from San Juan Pueblo (now Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo) in 1915. Officials had come for her older brother but, because he was helping his family with the cattle and harvest, they took the family’s 5-year-old daughter instead.
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