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Nevada Indigenous boarding school may be part of US review

July 6, 2021 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada Indian Commission has been collecting information on the history of the former Stewart Indian School in Carson City after U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced she’s launching an inquiry into the the federal government’s boarding school program for Native American children.

Stacey Montooth, director of the Nevada Indian Commission, told the Reno Gazette Journal that the commission has not yet received direction from the Interior Department but has begun speaking with the leaders of Native American tribes across the country about identifying missing students from boarding schools and speaking to staff about how the commission might approach the project.

Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary, announced in June that her department would compile and review decades of records to better understand the loss of life at the schools while they were in operation.

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The Stewart Indian School, which operated from about 1890 to 1980, was one about 200 military-style boarding schools for Native students nationwide.

The boarding schools were part of a U.S. policy to force assimilation as part of treaty rights. They offered basic academics but emphasized patriotism, citizenship, and manual labor skills.

The recent discovery of the remains of more than 200 children buried at the site of what was Canada’s largest Indigenous residential school has drawn fresh attention to the laws and policies that established and supported Native boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada.

During the years it operated, Stewart Indian School housed thousands of students who were cut off from their family members and forbidden from practicing traditions, speaking their languages and contacting their families.

“In 2021, we would call that kidnapping,” Montooth said. “Federal representatives of the government would physically, harshly take children and rip them from their mothers’ arms and bring them to boarding schools where they were beaten for speaking their language.”

The school about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) southeast of Carson City initially had three teachers and 37 students from the Washoe, Paiute and Shoshone tribes.

The school had 400 students by 1919 and focused on vocational training until the late 1960s, when it shifted to emphasize academics. It closed in 1980 because of budget cuts and earthquake safety issues.

The property came under state control in the 1990s and it is used for classes, training and offices for state agencies, including the Nevada Indian Commission.