Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and MuseumThe vision becomes reality!
February 18, 2019
Construction continues to renovate the former administration building that will become the new Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum and renovation of the former post office into the new Welcome Center. Renovations are expected to be completed by mid-July 2019.
History of Stewart Exhibit
Museum staff have final design documents completed on the way the Stewart history exhibit will look. They are now in the process of writing text labels, choosing images and artifacts for each exhibit section, in consultation with their exhibit team of Gallagher and Associates staff, researcher Samantha Williams, artists Ben Aleck and Melissa Melero, and the Stewart Cultural Advisory Committee. In addition, the staff will be taking the museum plans and exhibit designs out to the tribes to get their feedback and input on what they would like to see the museum include. Staff will go to Pyramid Lake Museum on Wednesday February 27thfrom 3:30-7 pm, and to Reno Sparks Indian Colony on Thursday February 28thfrom 3-6 pm. See the attached flyers. The staff will set up additional visits to the tribes in the east and south in March. A contract with an exhibit fabricating company will be presented for approval to the Nevada Board of Examiners at their April meeting, and fabrication can commence as soon as the contract is approved. Fabrication and installation of the new exhibits will be completed in November 2019.
Here is what will be included in the exhibits:
Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nevada, was operated by the federal government for 90 years, from 1890-1980. During that time it underwent many changes at the federal level, as well as at the local level. And thousands of students, their families, and communities were affected.
Allotment, Assimilation, and Boarding Schools
The federal government set up boarding schools to educate Native American children in the late 1800s. This forced assimilation policy was part of treaty rights, but in reality justified dividing up Native land through allotment and intended to assimilate Indian children into dominant culture. Boarding schools offered basic academics but emphasized patriotism, citizenship, and manual labor skills. These government policies strictly forbade the students from practicing their traditions or speaking their languages, they had no contact with families, and aspects of their lives were severely controlled. They were cut off from their families, culture, and languages.
Nevada State Funding
In 2015, the Nevada Governor and Legislature appropriated state funding to create the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum and Welcome Center to interpret this 90 years of history. This new museum is slated to open in 2019 and is dedicated to the memories of the first Stewart students from Great Basin tribes in 1890, and all students and their families who were impacted by the Stewart experience.
Walking into the lobby of the museum, visitors will be able to explore the Native land Stewart occupies, as well as to imagine the way the land looked before Stewart was established. The storytelling room will feature an exhibit about the four main language groups of Nevada: Wa She Shu (Washoe); Numu (Northern Paiute); Nuwu (Southern Paiute); and Newe (Western Shoshone). Among these four groups are 27 federally recognized tribes. This room will be used for storytelling by tribal members of these tribal nations, as well as craft demonstrations and sharing of documentaries about Nevada’s tribes. The museum’s hallway will feature changing exhibits sharing class photos from the graduating classes at Stewart, as well as student art produced when the school was open. The Research Room will feature archival documents, photographs, and publications about Stewart as well as boarding school history for the public and alumni to access. In addition, the Research Room will have an exhibit about the work of Superintendent Frederick Snyder and his efforts to beautify the Stewart campus in the 1920s with hand crafted stone buildings and landscaping. A temporary gallery will feature the work of contemporary Great Basin Native artists, as well as offering locally made art and crafts for sale with proceeds going to the artists.
History of Stewart Exhibit
The main exhibit gallery is a permanent exhibit about Stewart’s 90-year history and all the changes it went through. The exhibit will discuss the federal allotment and assimilation policies and the creation of Stewart as a federally operated off-reservation boarding school. This exhibit tells the stories of the students who attended Stewart through their own words. The following is a description of the exhibits:
- In “Coming to Stewart” the students describe the many reasons they attended Stewart from forced kidnapping to wanting an education.
- The exhibit moves into a visual and textual timeline about the changes Stewart underwent and the main events and important parts of the school’s history, both administratively and personally.
- The “Daily Life” exhibit demonstrates what the school was like on a daily basis for the students with stories about schedules, curricula, living in the dormitories, marching to classes, and learning vocational skills.
- The “Shadow of Stewart” documents the sad history of the students who were forced to go to the school, those who ran away and were punished, as well as those who fell ill from contagious diseases and passed away at the school. It also demonstrates how the school impacted the students and their families emotionally and psychologically and that trauma is carried over to their descendants today (intergenerational trauma).
- The “Making Home” section talks about how the students survived by making the school their second home: helping the younger ones, making life-long friendships, and joining clubs, band, and athletics to create their own communities.
- “Stewart in Transition” talks about the many changes Stewart went through, as the school’s focus changed from the reforms of the 1930s, to the Navajo Program in the 1940-50s, to the resistance and American Indian Movement during the 1960s.
- The “Voices of Stewart” demonstrates the many languages of Stewart’s tribes as the student body changed from the early Great Basin tribes, to the tribes from many tribes in the West.
- And, “Stewart Today” talks about the amazing lives the alumni led after leaving Stewart, from representing their tribes in the state legislature or tribal councils, to careers in everything from art, to business, to health.
The compelling history of Stewart will also be shared in educational activities, lectures, programs, and conferences as well as a Volunteer, Docent, and Intern Program.
For a complete list of Stewart Indian School resources, CLICK HERE
To download the Stewart Indian School Oral History Booklet CLICK HERE
To view our historic photography library CLICK HERE
We invite the public to learn about the beautiful rocks that were used to build over 60 buildings at the Stewart Indian School campus. Former state geologist Jonathan Price and Dennis Bryan created a scavenger hunt to learn about the rocks used in the Stewart buildings. To download a copy of the scavenger hunt, please CLICK HERE.
To view our archive of Stewart Indian School Yearbooks, CLICK HERE
Volunteers are Welcome
We welcome volunteers who would like to help us with giving tours, data entry of Stewart artifacts, documents, and photographs into a database, and preserving the collections. Please fill out the application form and let us know what you enjoy doing and we will match you with our needs. To Download Volunteer Application Click Here.
Cultural Center Staff
I’m so honored to be the museum director for the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum. I came to Nevada for the first time in May 2017 to accept this position. I’m very fortunate to build on the foundation of research and funding support of the Stewart Indian School that Sherry L. Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, and Chris Ann Gibbons, curator, have established. I previously worked at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, which used to be a government boarding school for Native children like Stewart. At Haskell, I helped to design and operate the Haskell Cultural Center and Museum. I’ve also worked as a museum professional in other museums and have curated many exhibitions and educational programs using museum collections. There are many unique things about the Stewart Indian School that I am excited to share through our new museum and an exhibition illustrating the stories of Stewart alumni and the changes at Stewart over its 90 year history. The cultural center is a part of the Stewart Indian School Living Legacy and Master Plan that honors the students from Stewart and interprets the 110-acre campus as a former government boarding school that has evolved into a cultural heritage destination.
Chris Ann Gibbons began with the Nevada Indian Commission in 2005 and is currently the Curator for the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum. As Curator, Chris primarily works on organizing and preserving the archival documents, photographs, and artifacts that tell Stewart’s history and feels very fortunate to be part of the team responsible for opening the Cultural Center and Museum. Chris is a graduate of Southern Oregon University with a degree in History and minors in both Native American Studies and Art History. Currently, she is working on obtaining a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the University of Oklahoma. Before coming to the Commission, Chris worked in educational outreach and programming for the Southern Oregon Historical Society.