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Los Cautivos: The First Battle Over Native American Education

  • Bert Atkinson, Director/Producer

About the Project

As the Western frontier closed, America sought to forcibly re-educate Native Americans at Indian Boarding Schools.  Their motto was “Kill The Indian To Save The Man.”  In 1892, the Pueblo of Isleta sued the Albuquerque Indian School for the return of “Los Cautivos” (The Captives), 36 children held against their will.

The Pueblo of Isleta enlisted the help of noted journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis who brought the plight of Isleta to national attention.  The weight of public opinion combined with the lawsuit, forced the school and the Federal Government to return all of “Los Cautivos.”

Set against the background of the final Indian Wars and the closing of the Western Frontier, the film uses Lummis’s articles, his photographs and official records to explore the racial, cultural and religious prejudice that informed politics and determined the national policy. The damage these policies did to family and tribe are examined through interviews with Isletan elders and contemporary graduates of Indian Boarding Schools.

The Los Cautivos lawsuit forced Congress to pass a law requiring parental consent before their children could be taken to boarding shool.  It also set standards for Native sovereignty and citizenship as Native Americans sought to preserve family and culture.