Nevada runner to retrace escape from American Indian school

YERINGTON, Nev. (AP) — Ku Stevens will not let history be forgotten.

Later this summer, the senior-to-be at Yerington High School plans to retrace his great-grandfather’s journey in escaping from the Stewart Indian School outside of Carson City.

He’s calling it: “The Remembrance Run.”

Stevens told the Reno Gazette Journal he was inspired earlier this year by the discovery of 215 children’s graves in Canada. The remains of the children were found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

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 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, the school’s historical site says.

Stevens’ great-grandfather, Frank Quinn, escaped from the Stewart Indian School and ran 50 miles (80.47 kilometers) when he was 8 years old to try to get back to his family home on the Yerington Paiute tribal reservation.

His route home went across the desert between Carson City and Yerington. He was returned to the school and escaped, again, three times in all.

Stevens’ great-grandmother Hazel, also a Paiute tribe member, was hidden by her family, who denied her existence when government officials came looking for her.

“The point of it all is to educate people on what happened to our people and what happened in Canada,” Stevens said of his run honoring Quinn.

“This is another thing to recognize what kinds of things they did to be with their families,” he told the newspaper.

Last year, state officials opened the 7,000-square-foot (650-square-meter) Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum in the 1923 stone building that formerly housed the administration and student union.

Bobbi Rahder, director of the new museum, said alumni of the school have shared a wide variety of experiences they remember at the school.

Some recall the festive fanfare of basketball games, robust curriculum and swimming in the Olympic-sized swimming pool where students were baptized, Rahder said. But others recall being kidnapped by government officials and taken to the school in a cattle wagon before their long hair was cut off by school staff.

“Our job was to go through all the stories and try to show the variety of experiences and share them with people,” she told the Gazette Journal last year.

Stevens visited the grounds on Memorial Day to gather more information for his reenactment.

Stevens’ determination is already well established. He was the lone runner on the Yerington cross country team this spring. In track, he posted the second fastest time in the state in the 1,600-meter (4:23.16) and in the 3,200-meter (9:47.26).

Stevens, who works two jobs and tries to train early in the morning, raced in the mile at the Golden West Invitational in Sacramento in mid-June.

He said if any fellow runners get tired, they are free to ride in a support vehicle during the reenactment.

“It’s about remembering and education,” Stevens said. “Anybody can come out and run. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s about healing and bringing people together. It’s not just about remembering the segregation and the bad things of the past.”