In the spring of 2017 the American West Center launched a new project on behalf of the State of Nevada Indian Commission– the preparation of a National Historic Landmark Nomination for the Stewart Indian School. Located just south of Carson City, Nevada, the boarding school opened in 1890, part of the attempt to “Americanize” Native youth through education. For nearly a century, the Stewart Indian School followed national models for the assimilation of Native American children.
Although the school closed in 1980, the complex remains a vital heritage site for Native Americans. Thousands of alumni throughout the West recall their days at Stewart. For many, life at Stewart was an amalgamation of both positive and negative experiences. Painful memories of leaving families and cultures behind still haunt some former students. Others recall their days at Stewart with fondness, often as the place where they formed friendships that lasted a lifetime. The Stewart Indian School offers a rare glimpse into the past of Indian assimilation programs, education systems, and cultural exchange. Its rich history illuminates how communities in the American West negotiated a landscape of intense cultural and societal changes.
The American West Center is in the unique position to assist the Nevada Indian Commission’s preservation efforts by preparing a National Historic Landmark nomination for the former boarding school. Today, the Stewart Indian School complex has over 80 extant buildings and structures and is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. National Historic Landmark designation is reserved for “nationally significant historic places” that “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” While over 90,000 properties are currently listed on the National Register, only 2,500 have been designated National Historic Landmarks. Landmark status brings increased protection as well as access to a range of grants and technical assistance programs. It also raises public awareness and interest and facilitates Heritage Tourism programs. NHL nominations demand rigorous research. They must both demonstrate the national historic significance of the site as well as document a high level of historic (architectural) integrity.