- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
Dial up the personal stories of former students and employees at Stewart Indian School.
Photo: Ryan Jerz (Stewart Indian School Small Girls Dorm stop)
Aletha Tom arrived at Stewart Indian School in 1959, making the long journey from her home at the Moapa Indian Reservation in Southern Nevada by bus. She was 12 years old. “It was the first time I was away from the reservation,” she recalls.
Tom tells of her six years at Stewart on the Stewart Indian School Talking Trail, a self-guided cell phone tour that debuted last fall. In its 90 years, the former boarding school near Carson City saw more than 20,000 American Indian students pass through its portals. You can take the tour by following a map of the campus and stopping at 20 designated sites. Dial 775-546-1460, punch in a tour-stop number, and you’ll hear from Tom, employees, and other students.
Although student life was regimented, Tom enjoyed her time at Stewart. On the tour, she talks about lining up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “I remember as a little girl marching to the dining room,” Tom relates on the tour at the Small Girls Dorm stop. “The bigger girls would call us termites. I’m not sure why. Maybe because we had to march in a line.”
At another stop, former guidance counselor and third-generation employee William Oliver remembers the time he picked up a student at the bus depot. “I asked him where he came from,” Oliver says. “He said, ‘Japan.’” The student’s father was stationed in Japan with the military, and he flew the boy home to attend the school. Stewart Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Larry Hale, whose father is a Stewart alumnus, first worked at the school as a plumber’s apprentice in 1971. On the audio tour, Hale describes the underground steam tunnels that heated the school buildings. “I spent many happy hours here,” he says.
Nevada Indian Commission Executive Director Sherry Rupert worked with various partners to produce the cell phone tour, which allows visitors to learn about the school and what it means to American Indians. “The school evokes fond memories,” Rupert says. “The alumni are passionate about their teachers and what they learned here. This school became their family. They are very proud.”
Stewart served Indian students from Nevada and surrounding states from 1890 to 1980. The first schoolhouse and dormitory occupied a Victorian-style wood building. As enrollment increased, students worked under the direction of Hopi stonemasons to construct buildings of colorful native stone. Focus was on vocational training until the 1960s, when academics were emphasized.
Nevada acquired the school in the 1990s. Recently, the Nevada Indian Commission received a grant from the Commission on Cultural Affairs to restore the old administration building into a cultural center. Displays will present the school’s history and that of the three Nevada tribes: Paiute, Shoshone, and Washoe. Research, archive, and community gathering spaces also are planned.
Tom is pleased. “I loved my time in Stewart,” she says. “It has a lot to do with who I am today.”
Photo: Stewart Indian School Father’s Day Powwow, by Bruce Rettig