Archeologist leads excavation at Stewart |

Archeologist leads excavation at Stewart

by Nicole Shearer
University of Nevada, Reno
Patrick Burtt, a member of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, assists University of Nevada, Reno assistant professor of anthropology Sarah Cowie in sifting through their archeological findings at the Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nev. Cowie is leading a field school this summer that teaches students about archaeology and historic preservation.
Jeff Dow/University of Nevada, Reno |

An archeological dig is under way at the 110-acre Stewart Indian School, located in southern Carson City.

“It is important to consider the Stewart Indian School’s complicated history through a collaborative effort,” said Sarah Cowie, a University of Nevada, Reno, assistant professor of anthropology. “Working at this site is a wonderful opportunity for us all to learn from each other, since we all bring something different to the project. As a non-native archaeologist, myself, I know I will learn a lot about indigenous heritage from native colleagues and students.”

The university’s Department of Anthropology, in partnership with the Nevada Indian Commission and the Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Office, is conducting the excavation at the site, which is home to 50 historic buildings.

The excavation also serves as a summer field school that teaches students about archaeology and historic preservation. This collaborative project combines the efforts of professional archaeologists, Native American specialists in heritage, and students from diverse backgrounds.

“The district is on the National Register of Historic Places and is deteriorating rapidly,” Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission, said. “Many of the historic buildings were built in the early 1900s and sit unoccupied, adding the urgency to protect these buildings.”

The Stewart Indian School was open from 1890-1980 with a federal mandate to educate American Indian children, initially from the Great Basin Tribes (Washoe, Northern and Southern Paiute, and Western Shoshone), but eventually accepting children from tribal nations of the region. The intent of the Indian boarding school was not to prepare the American Indian children for higher education, but to educate them enough so they could work in the dominant society, away from their culture and traditions.

Stewart alumni have told Washoe Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Darrel Cruz that in early years, young native children were forcibly removed from their homes to live on the Stewart Indian School campus. This practice was well-documented at other Indian schools around the country and resulted in a traumatic time for both the children and their parents. However, in later years attendance at Stewart was optional, and alumni from that period say it was good for some. It provided an avenue for the native population to learn a skill that would allow gainful employment.

The Nevada Indian Commission, a state agency, has been the lead on efforts to preserve the history and legacy of the school. The commission has worked with stakeholders, including the school’s alumni, to identify potential cultural tourism use of the buildings and campus. A cultural center and museum are planned, with future plans for a destination experience. The project is in the planning and fundraising phase.

“We are extremely pleased that the University of Nevada, Reno, has chosen the site of the historic Stewart Indian School for their field school,” Rupert said. “It is refreshing to see a change in the way new archaeologists are being taught, with the culture and people in mind. The university students, both native and non-native are learning about the school and its importance to Nevada’s history and future.”

Although the Stewart Indian School site is now owned by the state, it is located on the traditional homelands of the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada.

The project is taking place at the State of Nevada Stewart facility, 5500 Snyder Way, in Carson City. The public is welcome to visit the site while the team is working there, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-3 p.m. They expect to conclude their work Aug.13.

For questions on the Stewart Indian School or preservation and fundraising efforts, call the Nevada Indian Commission at 775-687-8333.