Teri’s Notebook: Governor’s nod to Carson City’s Stewart Indian School propels project forward

When Gov. Brian Sandoval announced during last week’s State of the State address his support for creating a “Native American historic experience” at Stewart Indian School, I wondered what exactly that meant.

So I made a call to Sherry Rupert, the director of the Nevada Indian Commission, to find out. She was still brimming with excitement.

“When he mentioned it, I just popped right up,” she said. “What a great way to show Indian Country that they are important and that cultural diversity is important to the state.”

In his Jan. 15 speech, Sandoval said, “Our long history of cultural preservation provides another opportunity for Nevada to lead. This project will restore the Stewart Indian School in Carson City and create a one-of-a-kind cultural welcome center focusing upon our Nevada tribes.”

Sandoval’s proposed budget includes $122,177 to begin work in 2017.

Rupert said the first phase of the plan will be to create a cultural center and welcome center.

The cultural center, she said, would showcase memorabilia and information about the federal school, which operated from 1890 to 1980. In the early years of the school, it was compulsory for Native American children to attend.

In the military-style boarding school, students were forced to forsake their culture and traditions and forbidden from speaking their native languages in an effort to assimilate them into white culture.

“For so long, the histories of the boarding schools have been hidden,” Rupert said. “Nobody really knows about them. It’s not taught in the majority of schools. This is an opportunity to share the history of the school and some of the trials and tribulations we’ve been through as Native people.”

The stories of the students who attended that school will be preserved in the cultural center, she said.

“We’re going after grant funding to capture more of the historical accounts of students who went to school here,” she said. “We want to share more of those.”

It will also include a resource center, she said, which would allow those interested to research the school and its students.

Work from Native American artists would also be on display and for sale. She said she’s often asked where people can purchase traditional wares.

“Really, there are only a couple of places to send them, and one of them is all the way over in Pyramid Lake,” Rupert said. “We’re in the capital city. We need a place for people to buy those things.”

The welcome center would serve as a guide to visitors to around the school’s campus, which includes an audio walking tour and other state offices.

Eventually, Rupert said, she would like to see visitors have the opportunity to stay in the old dorms, dine in the cafeteria and watch a play or movie in the auditorium for a more authentic experience.

She said the governor’s support over the years and in such a public fashion last week has invigorated the project.

“He’s so passionate about Stewart Indian School, I could just feel the momentum building,” she said. “It’s the beginning of what our vision is. We’ve been working on this for 10 years, and now it’s happening. It’s really exciting.”

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com or (775) 220-5333.


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