Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Geronima Montoya

Geronima Montoya

Honored October, 2004

Geronima Cruz Montoya

As a young girl taking elementary classes at the San Juan Day School on her native pueblo, Geronima Cruz so dreaded being shipped off to the Santa Fe Indian School that she purposely tried to flunk. Her ruse failed, however, and she was taken in a horse-drawn wagon to SFIS in 1927, at the age of 12. Her premonitions proved true: The students were not allowed to speak their own languages, and Geronima was miserable. She even tried to run away and return home, but was sent back to SFIS. But then something wonderful happened: The school got a new administration with an enlightened outlook. When Geronima graduated in 1935, she was class valedictorian and had dozens of activities.

A major inspiration was a visionary art teacher, Dorothy Dunn, who urged students to reach deep into their traditions, deep into their roots. So when Dunn offered Geronima a job to stay on as her assistant, she was thrilled. It was the beginning of a 38-year career with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. At SFIS, she and Dunn presided over a sometimes-controversial and now-legendary program called the Studio, which gained national and international attention. And when Dunn left the school in 1937, Geronima became her successor.