The Stewart Indian School Museum's doors have been closed for almost a year, but it could get a new lease on life.
Sherrada James of the Nevada Commission on Indian Affairs said her organization could reopen the museum's buildings on the Stewart Campus by moving into one of them until a more permanent solution is found.
Offices for the commission are now in Reno.
"The Indian Commission could relocate to Building 1. We could open the museum and use our budget funds for operating costs," she said. "We would work jointly with the State Museum, who could help us set up displays and exhibits. It wouldn't be an official museum, but it's a move in the right direction. We could then acquire the grants needed to open and operate."
She said Buildings 1 and 3 on the school's 110-acre campus in South Carson City were set aside for Stewart Indian memorabilia when the state acquired the property from the federal government after the school's closure in 1980.
"Building 1 was remodeled and refurbished through a Save America's Treasures grant," James said. "Sheila Abbe did the majority of the work, but the museum didn't have enough funding in their budget to get it opened and operating."
According to Building and Grounds Administrator Mike Meizel, the building is wired, but needs to be connected to a power supply other than the temporary one now being used. It also needs to be carpeted. Budgetary constraints are slowing progress, but he could start work on the power as early as this summer.
Sheila Abbe was executive director of the last nonprofit organization to operate the museum. She was removed after an outside group calling themselves the Carson City Urban Indian Consortium filed a new list of officers for the corporation with the Secretary of State's Office. They fired Abbe as museum director and had the Capitol Police remove her.
The Abbes challenged the removal in court and won, but in a previous interview Abbe said the nonprofit's ability to acquire a needed grant was curtailed by the negative publicity.
It was the last in a string of failures. For 20 years, nonprofits attempted to run the museum. All were plagued with problems and many Indians now want the museum in the hands of Indians, with the aid and supervision from public entities like the Nevada State Museum, according to James.
"Many members of the Indian community no longer support the idea of having nonprofits manage the museum because of its history," she said. "There have been so many financial and management problems and we have school alumni who are very interested in participating on an advisory board for the museum."
State Historic Preservation Officer Ron James supports the effort, but said success depends on the coordinated efforts of many state departments.
A large part of the museum's collection, owned by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was stored at the Nevada State Museum following the closure and other collections were also moved. A collection of original Edward S. Curtiss photos and other memorabilia are being kept by the Carson Valley Historical Society.
Some claim Indian artifacts are missing, but Ron James said that will be difficult to determine until the collection is once again under one roof.
"The Bureau of Indian Affairs collection is safe and, for the most part, we know a great deal about where the other collections are," he said. "When the dust settles, it may be quite clear that everything is still there."
Originally established in 1887, Stewart Indian School was one of a network of off-reservation boarding schools for Native American children. It was developed by the federal government and used for 90 years, from 1890 to 1980 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Between 1982 and 1993, the state acquired the core campus from the federal government in five separate transactions. All acquisitions were subject to deed restrictions to protect the historic integrity of the site.
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