Today’s topic is a very non-traditional subject. Ruth and I first heard about the Stewart School in an article in The New York Times on Sunday May 16, 2021. It was part of a longer article called “Explore Nearby Sites of Indigenous Culture”. Intrigued by the information and on our way to Carson City, NV anyway, we decided to stop and see Stewart while there. We’re glad we saw it, but the subject might cause pain.
The New York Times article began with an explanation that 300 federal boarding schools in the USA were built to assimilate Native American children into a different culture than they were used to. Only the Stewart School in Carson City that “operated from 1890 until 1980 remains structurally intact”. Several of the buildings that were once used as part of the school are still there, but they are in bad shape. There were 65 stone buildings constricted for use in this school. They were crafted by Hopi masons, and the Stewart site opened with a museum in 2020 just before the pandemic struck. The article in the Times speaks of “intergenerational trauma” and “destructive learning methods”. It is painfully honest.
So was an article in the local newspaper that I used to work for in Vancouver, WA. The article appeared on Sunday, May 30, 2021. Its headline reported “215 bodies found at Canadian Indigenous school”. The article documents that 150,000 children were taken from their families in Canada until the 1970s. This article was incredibly timely. The Indian School reported on was in Kamloops, BC. Once Canada’s largest residential school for First Nation children, this school has uncovered the remains of 215 children from the age of 3 onward. The buried children had been taken from families across Canada to be educated and assimilated into the existing Canadian culture. A friend asked Ruth if we had seen the film Rabbit Proof Fence about similar events in Australia. We have seen it.
Our tour of Stewart began in the Administration Building that contains some very fine museum displays. The museum is permanent but some of the exhibits are not. The bead work that Ruth & I saw comes down on October 22, 2021. BEADS: Indigenous Beadwork of the Great Basin” is wonderful. It contains the work of great Native American artists like Jaime Okuma. Just above is her “Silk Scarf of Beadwork Image”. Okuma has art displayed in and owned by the Heard Museum in Phoenix and a museum in Salem, MA. Two other examples of her work were on display in Carson City. I trust that the quality of this bead display will be continued in future exhibits. The Museum in the back room begins to tell the historical story of Stewart with incredible honesty.
I was shocked to learn that of the 357 Native American schools that were built, 64 of them remain opened. They are in Oklahoma, Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico, and South Dakota. I was further shocked by the news that many of the students who attended these schools retain fond memories of their experience.
(To be continued in Part II)