Stewart Indian School is shown in an undated photo.
YERINGTON — The significance of his "Remembrance Run" didn't sink in until Ku Stevens was finishing up the two-day, 50-mile trek from Carson City to Yerington to honor the memories of ancestors who were removed from their families and sent to the Stewart Indian School.
The school that operated on the south edge of Carson City from 1890 to 1980 was one of about 350 across the U.S. and Canada created to force the assimilation of Native Americans.
The Yerington High school senior's great-grandfather, Frank "Togo" Quinn, escaped from the school three times — the first when he was 8 years old, finding his way back to his family more than a century ago.
"Running down that hill and seeing my valley and seeing my home and my people's land out here, goosebumps all the way down," Stevens told the Reno Gazette Journal after he finished the run on Aug. 15.
"Thinking what it would be like to be a kid, coming over those hills and trying to get here. Realizing you're safe, at least until they come to get you again," he said.
Stevens, a national-caliber track athlete who runs cross-country for Yerington, reflected on how much more difficult it would have been when Quinn first escaped in 1913.
"They didn't have food," he said. "They didn't have Gatorade."
"It was a hard journey. So many of them did it multiple times. So many of them tried to do it and some of them didn't make it. It was a brutal reality back then," he told the Gazette Journal.
The Las Vegas Sun reported about 150 people turned out for the start of the run to help raise awareness about Native American boarding schools in the aftermath of the recent discoveries of more than 1,000 unmarked graves of children at such schools in Canada.
After those discoveries, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland launched a comprehensive review of American boarding schools with an emphasis on finding burial sites and unmarked cemeteries.
"This is not a protest," Stevens told those gathered in a ceremonial circle on the school lawn. "It's a remembrance. This is something we've heard of from our past, and it's finally coming to light."
For decades, the schools operated like a combination of military academies and forced labor camps, with students being required to conduct marching drills and perform manual labor while being taught only rudimentary academic courses.
Some of the children were sent voluntarily by their families. Others were abducted by the government. Children as young as 4 years old were confined at Stewart, where family visits were not allowed.
Students were given Christian names and strictly forbidden from speaking their own language or practicing their own customs.
Ku Stevens' father, Delmar, told the Las Vegas Sun he first started thinking about a way to help connect his son to his heritage about a decade ago.
"Ku was 8, and I thought, 'We'll put on backpacks one of these days and take off," Delmar, a social worker, told the Sun.
But when Ku Stevens learned of the discoveries in Canada, the idea went from conceptual to reality. He instigated the event, and he and his family led the way in coordinating with support drivers, sponsors and others for the two-day trek.
"This is his journey," said his father, who led the support team along the route.
Misty Stevens, Ku's mother, said the run stirred introspection for everyone involved.
"There were moments of healing. There were moments when we were crying," she told the Gazette Journal.
"There were times when we were just thinking about 8-year-olds doing what we were doing, and we were suffering," she said. "I was suffering just driving the stupid truck."
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