Located in Carson City, Nevada, the Stewart Indian School preserves the campus of a former boarding school for indigenous Americans, offering a self-guided walking trail tour and annual public special events. Following the Indian Removal acts of the mid-19th century, a number of boarding schools were established throughout the United States with the aim of assimilating young indigenous students into European-American culture and providing education on traditional European-American curriculum topics.
Many of the schools were started by Christian missionaries of various religious sects and were primarily concentrated in less-populated areas of the American West, aiming to provide education for indigenous children who had been relocated to Native American reservations, though some later schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, based off the model of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. The legacy of these schools is controversial in modern times, with many historians believing that the schools were an attempt to “civilize” indigenous Americans by stripping them of their traditional culture and forcibly converting them to Western Christian ideals. As a result of the legacy of these schools, a number of tribal nations responded throughout the 20th century by establishing community-based tribal schools and universities, some of which were supported by the United States government.
The Stewart Indian School was opened in December of 1890 on a 240-acre campus in Carson City, Nevada, serving an initial population of 37 students from the area’s Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe tribes. The school’s construction was the result of an 1888 Nevada legislature bill authorizing the sale of bonds for the purchase of lands to construct a boarding school for area indigenous children, and the completed school was named in honor of Nevada senator William M. Stewart. Though the initial campus contained facilities for 100 students, including a Victorian-style dormitory and schoolhouse building, additional facilities were added throughout the 20th century as enrollment grew, including a hospital, a recreation room, a swimming pool, and several training shop facilities. More than 60 indigenous stone buildings were also constructed on the campus, overseen by stone masons from the Hopi tribe. By the 1920s, the school’s enrollment peaked at over 400 students, with courses offered in core curriculum subjects and vocational training related to common trades. Throughout the mid-20th century, the school’s focus shifted primarily to academic studies, but in 1980, the facility was closed as a result of budget cuts and safety concerns with earthquake activity in the area.
Attractions and Tours
Following the school’s closure, the Stewart Indian School campus was acquired by the State of Nevada in the 1990s and became the home of a number of state agency offices, including the official offices of the Nevada Indian Commission and the Washoe Tribe, which established its Stewart Indian Colony on the campus. In 1985, the school’s campus was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, the Stewart Indian School is operated as a historic living history facility, offering self-guided tours of the campus’ 63 extant historic buildings. A number of training centers and state-sponsored curriculum facilities are also housed on the campus, including facilities connected to the state’s Department of Corrections. A museum exhibit at the nearby Nevada State Museum, Under One Sky, also showcases a variety of preserved artifacts from the school.
A self-guided walking tour, the Stewart Indian School Trail, is available for campus visitors, presenting 20 historic sites throughout the campus elaborated on via a cell phone audio tour. Notable sites throughout the tour include the school’s former Administration Building, Auditorium, Infirmary, Dining Hall, and Superintendent’s Home. The facility’s Band Room, Gym and Athletics Field, Carpentry Shop, and Post Office are also highlighted, along with several dorm buildings, employee cottages, technical facilities, and a traditional Wa Pai Shone trading post. Personal anecdotes from former school employees and students are shared as part of the tour’s audio, including a welcome message and historical address by State of Nevada Indian Commission Executive Director Sherry L. Rupert. Visitors may explore the campus at their leisure and listen to audio tour stories in any order or follow the trail in order and remain connected to the tour line the entire route. Podcasts of the audio tour may also be downloaded via the school’s website.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Several annual public special events are offered at the school’s campus, including a Stewart Father’s Day Powwow festival, which has been named as the area’s Event of the Year by the Carson City Chamber of Commerce. More than 200 indigenous dancers and demonstrators are highlighted throughout the weekend event, along with a number of native artisans and indigenous food vendors. An annual American Indian Achievement Awards ceremony is presented by the Nevada Indian Commission during National American Indian Heritage Month in November, honoring outstanding community members who have done civic work supporting indigenous communities and causes.
5366 Snyder Ave, Carson City, NV 89701, Phone: 775-687-8333