Albuquerque Indian School

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Albuquerque Indian School
Construction Began 1881
Opened 1881
Location Albuquerque, NM
Alternate Names


The Presbyterian Church started the Albuquerque Indian School in rented quarters in 1881 under contract with the federal government in the town of Duranes NM. In 1886, a businessmen contributed acreage at what is today 12th Street and Indian School Road in Albuquerque, and the school was reloacted to its permanent location. The new campus expanded until it comprised forty-eight buildings, eventually including even a hospital where kids who contracted the ubiquitous scourge, tuberculosis and other diseases recuperated or sometimes died.

Here, children lived, learned, were deprived of their indigenous cultures, and often yearned for home. Art education at the Albuquerque Indian School, particularly drawing, existed since the establishment of that institution under the management of the Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in 1881. A teacher, for example, told the Albuquerque Journal in 1883 that “the school hours are from 9 to 12 in the forenoon, 2 to 5 in the afternoon and one hour after supper devoted to music and drawing” and that “reading, arithmetic, writing, drawing, spelling, geography, and lessons in the use of language are daily taught”.

After 1900 drawing seems to have lost its importance in the curriculum in favor of more systematic attention to industrial work. The 1900 annual report of Superintendent Collins to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs actually confirms that “most time is given over to practical and useful work. Only enough attention is given to music and so-called accomplishments to serve as a diversion.”

Native crafts were included in the curriculum of the Albuquerque Indian School as a result of the 1901 Uniform Course of Study introduced by Estelle Reel. In his 1904 annual report Superintendent Allen wrote that “pottery work among the Pueblo girls was very good” and that “many of the girls who had been taught weaving were so anxious to weave blankets that they frequently used the legs of an ordinary chair for a loom.” Native children were clearly yearning for whatever semblance of their culture they could be allowed to hold on to. However, the introduction of Navajo weaving as a minor part of the domestic training of girls clearly shows that the purpose of this training was not the preservation of the craft or the promotion of an aspect of native culture, but rather the development of girls’ skills in the making of utilitarian objects, that is, items that were useful and economically valuable. Girls could have thus spent their free time in making good objects that could have been sold.

When Estelle Reel retired in 1910 and the new schools supervisor took office, emphasis on Native industries strongly decreased as the 1916 course of study for Native schools demonstrates: domestic science and manual training were retained as core teachings. Through a complex process of parental involvement, Pueblo culture, and legal challenges, this particular institution changed over time to become a school where young people could gain an identity, learn English while practicing their own arts, be athletes, play in a renowned band, work in Albuquerque homes, and graduate with the same fond memories as children hold for any school. The Pueblo tribe currently holds the land in trust. In the same location is now the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, built in 2013.