Stewart Indian School Powwow recognized with national award |

Stewart Indian School Powwow recognized with national award

Teri Vance
Special to the Nevada Appeal
Dancers compete at the Stewart Indian School Father's Day Powwow at in June 2017. The American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association honored the Stewart Indian School Father’s Day Powwow Wednesday night as the Best Cultural Heritage Experience in the country during it’s 2016-2017 awards ceremony in Wisconsin. Photo by Cathleen Allison/Nevada Photo Source
Cathleen Allison | Nevada Photo Source

The Stewart Indian School Father’s Day Powwow often stands out to attendees by the setting alone.

“It’s a beautiful campus with multicolored stone buildings as well as the grassy field,” said Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission. “That’s a big attraction because most powwows are held in dirt or in parking lots.”

Beyond the physical beauty of the location, the powwow was honored at a gala Wednesday evening as the Best Cultural Heritage Experience for 2017-18 by the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, a national nonprofit with the mission to “define, introduce, grow and sustain American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian tourism that honors traditions and values.”

“AIANTA, as the national organization representing the tribal hospitality and tourism industry, recognizes the best of Indian Country travel and tourism with annual awards for Destination of the Year, Best Cultural Heritage Experience and Excellence in Customer Service,” according to a press release. “These awards recognize tourism operations that foster a greater understanding and appreciation of authentic culture, history, heritage and/or the arts.”

Rupert said the powwow is predominantly a social gathering.

“Most powwows these days are a place for people to come to learn about American Indian culture,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for the community to experience the culture and the beautiful artwork. It’s also an opportunity to experience what an Indian taco is.”

The event also serves as a fundraiser for preserving the school, which housed more than 30,000 students between 1890 and 1980.

The three-day powwow brings in 3,000 to 3,500 people each year, including dancers, drummers, vendors and spectators.

An awards ceremony is also held for alumni of the school, bringing students back to the campus sometimes for the first time since their school days.

“Each one has their own experience and their own memories,” Rupert said. “Some are positive, some are not. When students come back to the school after decades, some remember the loneliness and hard times. Others have this feeling of coming home.”

Rupert said the construction is expected to begin in May to transform the former administration building into a Cultural Center as the first phase of the Stewart Indian School Living Legacy.

“This place is very special to Native Americans, to the state of Nevada and to Carson City,” Rupert said. “That’s the whole idea, to bring life and vibrancy back to the campus. For so long, it has been underutilized and under appreciated.”