RENO, Nevada – The Stewart Indian School in Carson City may be subject to federal review following the announcement by US Home Secretary Deb Haaland that the government will investigate his past surveillance of residential schools.
Last month, Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo of New Mexico and the first Native American to serve as Cabinet Secretary, introduced the national initiative by addressing members of the National Congress of American Indians at his mid-year conference.
The initiative was born from the discovery of a mass tomb containing the remains of 215 children, all found on the site of what was once Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school. Kamloops Indian Residential School is one of many institutions that serve Indigenous children from families across the country and in the United States.
The Nevada school has hosted thousands of students over its 90-year history, and members of the local tribe remember family members who have repeatedly fled the school after being forcibly cut off from their family, their culture and their language.
The Nevada Indian Commission has gathered information on the history of the former Stewart Indian School, commission executive director Stacey Montooth said.
Montooth said the Nevada Indian Commission has yet to receive instructions from the US Department of the Interior. Yet the state agency is “committed to following the lead of our alumni and tribal leaders in how they want to get results,” she said.
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âThe news that brought the discoveries in Canada at their residential school to the world’s attention came as no surprise to Native Americans,â said Montooth. “But the lack of surprise doesn’t make it any easier to manage.”
Haaland had previously said the investigation would help “uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences of institutions.”
The unprecedented initiative will include the compilation and review of decades of records to locate former residential schools, uncover known and possible burial sites in or near these schools, and identify the names of students and their tribal affiliations.
Earlier this week, Montooth spoke with other tribal leaders from other parts of the country who are working to identify missing students from boarding schools.
The discovery in Canada sparked a national discussion about atrocities against Native American communities in the United States, Montooth said.
Return to the Stewart Indian School
The Stewart Indian School opened on December 17, 1890, shortly after the country’s first residential school was established in Pennsylvania. It initially had three teachers and 37 students from the local Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes. The school was located three miles southeast of Carson City and spanned 240 acres.
Montooth said the United States waged wars against Native American communities after a failed treaty.
âThey basically tried to kill all the Indians, and it didn’t work,â she said.
The next approach involved assimilation. Montooth said the school, which remained open for 90 years, operated as a military academy for the purpose of assimilation.
The campus opened with a capacity of 100 students. It included a dormitory and a Victorian-style wood-frame school. As enrollments increased, new buildings were added including a training venue, recreation room, and hospital.
According to the cultural center’s website, a railroad stop was established in 1906 to deliver supplies and transport students to and from the school. In 1919, 400 students attended school. Vocational training remained at the center of the school until it turned to academics in the late 1960s.
âIn 2021, we would call it a kidnapping,â Montooth said. “Federal government officials physically and harshly grabbed the children and tore them from their mothers’ arms and took them to boarding schools where they were beaten for speaking their language.”
She remembers hearing a story from a local elder who described several attempts to escape from the Stewart Indian School.
The woman told Montooth that the school matrons cut her hair every time they brought her back to school.
âHair for Aboriginal people is absolutely sacred,â said Montooth. “She said she looked like a boy because she kept getting chopped and chopped.”
Budget cuts and earthquake safety issues ultimately forced the school to close in 1980.
The state then acquired the campus in the 1990s and it is currently used by the state for courses, training, and agency offices.
The Washoe tribe of Nevada and California founded the Stewart community on much of the old school land, according to the cultural center’s website.
Meanwhile, the school has since been listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. The cultural center and museum is located in the old administrative building.
Contribution: USA TODAY; The Associated Press