Monday 23 August 2021 | 2 a.m
The Stewart Indian School campus in Carson City is today a tranquil, postcard-like setting with beautiful stone buildings, towering poplars, and well-maintained commons.
But beneath the beauty of the surface of the institution hides a cruelly cruel legacy. Stewart, one of more than 350 such institutions in the United States, was founded with the mission of destroying Native American culture by forcing the assimilation of native youth into white culture. It is a place where children were confined, strictly forbidden to speak their tribal languages or participate in their customs, forced into manual labor, severely punished for breaking the rules and isolated from their parents for years.
Countless deaths in Stewart and beyond, as the world was stunned to learn with the discovery of more than 1,000 anonymous graves of children in residential schools in Canada this summer.
This month, northern Nevada teenager Ku Stevens did his part to raise awareness about Stewart and other Indian residential schools by leading a two-day 50 mile remembrance run from school to the Paiute reserve near Yerington.
It was a remarkable display of leadership from an aspiring young Native American social advocate, and now lawmakers in Nevada should follow Stevens’ lead by focusing more on Stewart and increasing state support for native peoples of Nevada.
Stewart closed as a school in 1980 after 90 years of operation, and today its administration building has been transformed into a museum and cultural center. (Other buildings on campus house the offices of the Nevada State Government, including the offices of the Nevada Indian Commission and the Department of Corrections.)
The Museum and Cultural Center is a valuable asset to Nevada, as one of the few places in the country to offer a comprehensive and culturally respectful history of residential schools.
The installation unflinchingly tells about Stewart’s traumatic past, but presents a tale that ends triumphantly with students and their families ultimately defeating the government’s forced assimilation campaign. In addition to artifacts and modern touches like video screens, the museum offers an impressive array of research materials such as yearbooks, school records, and transcripts of interviews with survivors.
This is something worth seeing for all Nevadans, especially our young people, for the same reason that German schools have a policy of taking students there to concentration camps or museums in the city. ‘Holocaust. American children need to see the horrors of our past so as not to repeat them.
Currently, the Stewart Museum and Cultural Center is operating with a small staff and could use an education coordinator due to the increased interest of schools in post-discovery tours in Canada. Lawmakers should fund this post and take steps to facilitate more school visits.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers should seek new ways to use state resources for the direct benefit of Native Americans in Nevada.
Too often, states pay too little attention to Indigenous populations and instead stand aside and seek help from the federal government.
That shouldn’t happen in Nevada, home to more than 30 distinct Native American tribes and settlements, and where Clark County has one of the fastest growing Native American populations in the country.
Heads of state, in setting their priorities, should include seeking ways to harness the power of state government at the service of these communities and individuals. Why not consider funding a state commission to study issues regarding the rights and opportunities of Native Americans living on reserves, for example? Or fund a program that teaches students across the state about Native Americans in Nevada and elsewhere? Or find a way to support research and counseling for historical trauma? Is there a way for the state to increase or support the development of affordable housing in Native American communities as a result of the $ 10 million federal funding from the U.S. bailout that was directed to those communities in this end?
Opportunities for state effort abound, but the path to progress begins when state leaders focus on the needs of the indigenous peoples of Nevada and not just look to the federal government for resources.
Ku Stevens, with his actions earlier this month, helped shed light on Stewart and opened the door for a discussion of the generational trauma caused by Native American boarding schools. It is an issue that affected most Aboriginal families, including Stevens’.
Stevens, an elite athlete who plans to attend the University of Oregon, told a crowd of over 150 at the start of the race it was because of the courage and persistence of his great-great -father and others like him, Stevens and his generations have been able to observe their Native American culture and traditions today.
It was a powerful message that should resonate with the leaders of the states of Nevada.