Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak at the Stewart Indian School on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021 in Carson City. (AP Photo/Samuel Metz)
Gov. Steve Sisolak met with leaders from more than half of Nevada’s tribal communities Friday, pledging the state’s full cooperation in righting what he termed the immoral actions of the federal government at Stewart and other Indian boarding schools.
“The story of the native people who were here originally is grim,” he said.
“On behalf of the state, I want to make an apology,” he said after the two-hour meeting at the Stewart Indian Colony complex. “We need to make amends. The pain of having a child taken away never to return and not knowing what happened to that child is truly unimaginable.”
The school operated from 1890 until finally shut down 1980 and had more than 20,000 Indian children from 200 tribes who were forcibly taken from their parents with the goal of eradicating their native culture and language to integrate them into white society. Sisolak said the federal mantra was, “kill the Indian to save the man.”
“The intent was to absolutely remove all aspects of native American culture,” said
Nevada Indian Commission Director Stacey Montooth.
She said the goal of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative is to find and restore historical records of the more than 350 schools that once existed, analyze burial sites at the schools and address the inter-generational impacts those schools had on Indian children and their families.
She said Stewart is one of the few of those schools still in existence and that it is time “to undertake the long overdue and tremendously difficult task of helping our people recover.”
Amber Torres, chair of the Walker River Paiute Nation, said the federal government must be held accountable and that starts with accounting for all the children they can. But at this point, she and Sisolak said they don’t have the federal records that still exist.
As Sisolak put it, “When it closed in 1980, they basically changed the locks and took all the records with them.
“It wasn’t Uncle Sam’s priority to keep track of the people who were sent here,” he said
At this point, Reno-Sparks Indian Colony Chairman Arlen Melendez said they don’t even know who was at the school, how many died and what tribes they were from.
But Torres said in Nevada, there has been some progress. She said the Paiute language is now taught in four Washoe County high schools and at the University of Nevada, Reno. And Indian high school graduates can attend the Nevada System of Higher Education without paying tuition.