NV tribal officials hopeful Stewart museum will open by year’s end
Special to First Nation’s Focus
CARSON CITY, Nev. — Several regional tribal members participated in a Sierra Nevada Forum panel discussion on Sept. 10 in Carson City to provide a glimpse into the history and issues affecting Nevada’s Native American tribes.
“The federal government recognizes our sovereignty. We are 27 nations, each with our own laws, constitution, courts,” said Stacey Montooth, who began her new role as executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission (NIC) on Sept. 1.
Sierra Nevada Forum events are free and held at the Carson City Brewery Arts Center’s Performance Hall.
The Sept. 10 panel consisted of Montooth (Walker River Paiute Tribe); Brian Wadsworth, a commissioner on the NIC and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; Marla McDade Williams, a lobbyist and past commissioner and a member of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone; and Helen Fillmore, a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Reno who works on the Native Waters on Arid Lands project and is a member of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.
Wadsworth spoke about the Stewart Indian School in Carson City and the history of boarding schools, quoting Brigadier General Richard Pratt — who founded the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School in 1879 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania — and said such schools were to “kill the Indian, save the man.”
Wadsworth said children were often kidnapped, taken away from anything familiar, and forced to board at schools like Carlisle (which closed in 1918) and Stewart, which operated from 1890 until 1980, closing due to a lack of funding.
“It was assimilation, that’s what ‘kill the Indian, save the man’ meant,” said Wadsworth. “There was a lot of sexual, physical and mental abuse to assimilate them into, quote unquote ‘civilized society.’”
These days, the 240-acre Stewart Indian School campus is owned by the state of Nevada and listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
The Nevada Indian Commission was allocated $4.5 million from the state in 2017 to renovate the school’s administration building into a museum and cultural center and the first Stewart Post Office into a welcome center.
Renovation work started in the summer of 2018 and continues heading into the fall.
Wadsworth, whose father and aunt attended the school in Carson City, said the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum will hopefully open by the end of year, adding that an advisory committee has been working with alumni.
“We want to make sure we’re telling the most accurate story,” he said at the Sept. 10 forum.
Williams, meanwhile, outlined recent state legislation affecting the state’s tribes.
“There was key legislation in 2019, it was a banner year for the tribes,” said Williams.
Among that legislation was Assembly Bill 137, which allows tribes to establish polling places once and not have to re-establish for subsequent elections; and AB 264, which institutes a process for state agencies to consult with the tribes.
“The Walker River State Park was established without talking to the tribe in Yerington,” said Williams. “We hope to head off those kinds of actions. We want the agencies to think about how the tribes will be affected.”
Fillmore took time to discuss work at Lake Tahoe to restore culturally important plants and showed photos of women from the Washoe Tribe working on the project.
“Plant knowledge is mostly held by women. Information was handed down for generations,” said Fillmore.
She said work is also being done on environmental adaptation efforts.
“Indigenous people are most vulnerable to climate change,” she said.