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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

On the train to Santa Fe, the girl wrapped herself in her mother’s shawl. But then, ‘That [Indian School] lady said she was taking my shawl off. She didn’t want me to wear a shawl. You know, they didn’t want us Indians to be Indians in those days. They wanted us to be something else than that. And then she wanted to take my shawl. No! I held it to me because that shawl touched my mother and I loved it. I wanted it to touch me.’

“Can you imagine being torn away from your mom and dad? That’s the kind of history we have,” Chavez says. Since the 1970s, tribes have been working toward a vision of educational sovereignty and the re-creation of Indian schools. At the Santa Fe Indian School, that has meant creating a new campus—one on which Native students feel at home.

Continuing the tour, Chavez steps into the new math and sciences building, outside of which a traditional-style plaza is surrounded by the humanities building, a dining hall and library, and the practical arts building.

Throughout the campus, there are technology centers and computer labs that were created through partnerships with entities that include the Department of Energy and Intel Corp. Within the new educational buildings, students work on projects that benefit their tribes—they do geographic information system mapping projects, work on environmental issues, and even try to address dietary issues and prevent diseases such as diabetes. There’s a seed-banking project on campus, where students collect and save the seeds of plants grown and used by the tribes in order to protect them from genetic corruption.

Nearby, the dormitories resemble homes. Two or three students share individual rooms. Common rooms, complete with fireplaces, resemble those in traditional pueblo structures. Within the high school dormitories, there are rooms in which students may pray.

All along the way, Chavez brags about the school’s students: 97 percent graduate, and many go on to college. Recent graduates have gone on to Stanford, Yale and Georgetown. And many come home to work for their tribes afterward.

Pleased to be showing off the new campus, Chavez seems genuinely baffled by all the attention paid to saving the Paolo. He guesses few public school districts would want a concert facility in the middle of one of their schools.

Modest Mouse played Paolo Soleri Amphitheater’s second-to-last show
Credits: Colleen Hayes

As he heads over toward the new wellness center—an indoor athletic facility that he says one day may host concerts and theater productions—and its bright green AstroTurf athletic fields, he talks about the school’s future.

He recalls the words of one of the people who was at the forefront to gain control of the Santa Fe Indian School property: “If we’re going to be in control of our destinies, as tribal people, we need to be in control of our education.”

He still believes those words, he says.

“It’s important that we do things as we please. We do it because we’ve had this vision for a long, long time, and we’re finally moving on it. And we can’t be faulted for moving on that vision,” he says. “Our educational agenda is going to liberate and empower our people.”

With or without music in the background.  SFR
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