Court blocks move of Indian photographs
April 15, 2003
An injunction granted in civil court Monday will keep a collection of historic American Indian photographs in Nevada for now.
Sheila Abbe, former executive director of the Stewart Indian School Museum, planned to move the photo collection, once displayed at the museum in Carson City, to Chandler College in Chandler, Ariz.
Sherrada James, executive director of Nevada’s Indian Commission, sought the injunction in district court to block the move.
Because District Judge Michael Griffin granted the injunction, the memorabilia will stay in Nevada until its ownership can be determined, said Wayne Howell, senior deputy attorney general.
“Both claim to own the collections,” he said. “That is the issue in this case.”
The collection of 106 photos by E.S. Curtis of Indians in their environment became a part of Stewart Museum in the mid-1980s. Through a grant from J.P. Morgan, Curtis photographed all of the major tribes west of the Mississippi from the 1880s through the 1930s.
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Howell said he believes the state owns the collection. The deed for the school, acquired from the federal government in 1982, specifies certain buildings for memorabilia, arts and crafts.
Since then, about five nonprofit organizations have operated the facility.
“The state owns the property, and they have plans to reacquire the property for the museum,” Howell said. “They want to put the Nevada Indian Commission in the old museum buildings, after upgrading, and the museum in the old building.
“Sherrada James has been working with Pam Wilcox of State Lands and Mike Mizell of Buildings and Grounds, and state officials signed an agreement that was fully executed today, ” he said.
The agreement needs to be approved by the State Board of Examiners, he said. “I think it’s important for the local community,” he said “People still feel strongly about Stewart Indian School. There are a lot of alumni here, although people feel differently about who should be in charge.”
Terry Boice of Carson City, part of an American Indian group that sought control of the museum in 2001, said the Curtis collection was donated to the Stewart Indian School Museum Association and, as such, belongs with the rest of the memorabilia.
The Indian Tribal Council of Nevada, which comprises all tribal chairpersons, passed a resolution supporting the Indian Commission, she said.
“Money from museum could be used to maintain the artifacts,” she said. “Nothing has been maintained. We also want Stewart Indian School alumni to serve on an advisory board.”
Abbe’s tenure as museum executive director was cut short by litigation when another group challenged her position.
She regained legal control of the museum, but had to close it in spring 2001 because she ran out of money, she said.
The Curtis collection was displayed at the Carson Valley Historical Society in Douglas County.
Abbe said she loaned the prints to Chandler College, in a deal that included their complete restoration. Only then, she believes, the collection could be safely exhibited in Nevada. Those plans are on hold.