House Bill 22-1327 research underway at state sites
History Colorado’s State Archaeologist, Dr. Holly Norton, presented a second quarterly report about Federal Indian Boarding Schools in Colorado to the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA), Thursday, Dec. 15.
The report outlines the progress to date in implementing the Federal Indian Boarding School Research Program Act (HB 22-1327), which was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis on May 24, 2022. The act directs History Colorado to investigate the lived experiences of students at the one-time federal Native American boarding school in Hesperus, Colo., also referred to as the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School, as well as identify potential burial places of students who perished while attending the school.
The latest report provides updates on the completion of the current phase of remote sensing work at the site of the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School; efforts to secure funding for completion of similar work at the Teller Institute in Grand Junction; and updates on archival research.
A complete copy of Dr. Norton’s second quarterly report can be found here. This report is a continuation of the previous report under the HB 22-1327, which was provided to the CCIA on Sept. 8.
Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School, Hesperus
As part of the work to implement HB 22-1327 the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs convened the first multinational tribal consultation on Oct. 26, at Fort Lewis College. This meeting was held virtually and in-person and was attended by members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Southern Ute Indian Tribe, and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, as well as CCIA, Fort Lewis College and History Colorado representatives. The consultation focused on providing an overview of HB 22-1327, the work to date, and how work should proceed.
Dr. Norton also held listening sessions at Fort Lewis College with faculty, staff, and students on Oct. 28, to discuss HB 22-1327 and the research being conducted by History Colorado.
Additionally, History Colorado contracted with Statistical Research, Inc. to conduct a remote sensing investigation of the Fort Lewis Indian Boarding School site in Hesperus, Colo. The remote sensing is non-ground disturbing, meaning that soil and sediments are not excavated, dug, or removed in any way. This work concluded in November. The data is now being processed and evaluated and results will be ready to share with tribal nations in February 2023.
The Teller Institute, Grand Junction
The quarterly report also provides updates on investigative work at the Teller Institute, which operated in Grand Junction from 1886-1911. The Teller Institute is now owned by the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). The investigation into the Teller Institute began before the passage of HB22-1327 and is a separate but concurrent project.
CDHS held a second consultation meeting with tribes participating in the Teller Institute investigation on Oct. 27. This consultation was hosted virtually and in-person at Fort Lewis College, and was attended by representatives of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the San Carlos Apache Tribe, as well as CDHS, CCIA, and History Colorado representatives.
A partner in the Teller Institute investigation, the Colorado School of Mines is conducting remote sensing of the grounds to identify any potential burial sites. On Nov. 30, History Colorado’s State Historical Fund awarded the School of Mines $250,000 to complete this work.
So far remote sensing at the Teller Institute has been inconclusive due to soil composition as well as decades of ground disturbance.
A team of researchers, led by Dr. Norton, visited the National Archive and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 28 – Dec. 2, to identify and collect digital copies of all documents related to Indian Boarding Schools in Colorado from 1881-1920. This team scanned roughly 5,000 pages of data from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., over the course of five days. These documents join several hundred pages of documents retrieved from the National Archives location in Denver.
While the scope of the boarding school system is nationwide, the archival research conducted by Dr. Norton focuses on federal boarding school operations within Colorado, as well as the closure of these schools.
As a result of the methodological choice to focus specifically on Boarding School operation inside of Colorado from 1881-1920, the totality of lived experiences of students who were moved from their Colorado homes to boarding schools in other states may not be represented within this study.
Additional sites of interest
Research-to-date and on-going consultation with tribal representatives have identified additional institutions that could be relevant to boarding schools’ impact on Native American tribes-people in Colorado. The number of locations being investigated has grown to ten, but this is subject to change as some of these could be the same schools operating under different names.
More detail about these schools, which includes several locations along the Front Range, is included in the report but research is ongoing to understand these sites.
Other activities of note
History Colorado Staff participated in panel discussions on Boarding Schools at the Denver Indian Family Resource Center for Orange Shirt Day Oct. 1. Dr. Norton also participated in a Webinar presentation for the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center on Oct. 11.
The research team will visit additional research facilities, and there are still materials to be gathered from the facilities in Washington D.C. and Denver. Archival analysis will help determine whether there are any additional areas of concern that require remote sensing investigation. Post-processing of the remote sensing data continues for both the Fort Lewis-Hesperus site and the Teller Institute.
Consultation with Tribal Nations will continue in the coming months in connection to both the Fort Lewis site in Hesperus, Colo. and the Teller Institute in Grand Junction, Colo. It is anticipated that the consultation work will be expanded to include additional tribes that have been identified as having connections to Colorado boarding schools.
A third quarterly report will be provided to the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs on March 16, 2023.