Explore the History of the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum

Carson City doesn’t just serve as a hub of political activity as Nevada’s capital. It’s not just where a handful of incredible events take place. It’s not just a stopover on your way to Lake Tahoe or elsewhere (though you’ll definitely find some comfortable places to rest your head!).

This is the place where Nevada Native culture—comes to life.

Nevada as a whole is the traditional homeland of the Washoe (Wa She Shu), Northern Paiute (Numu), Western Shoshone (Newe), and Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi) people, and Fort Mohave (Pipa Aha Macav). With residence dating back thousands of years, this region was and still is the cherished home to 28 bands, tribal nations, and colonies. Right in the vicinity of Carson City is the historic Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. This community includes:

  • Carson Indian Colony
  • Dresslerville Indian Colony
  • Stewart Indian Community
  • Woodfords Indian Community

Young people from these tribes, as well as others across western states, attended a boarding school—known as Stewart Indian School—as part of an assimilation program led by the federal government from 1890-1980

A Glimpse into the History of Stewart Indian School

Since contact, the United States government implemented policies that negatively impacted Native tribes nationwide. They started parceling their lands and distributing it with the Dawes Act. Additionally, they removed Native children from their homes to be enrolled in classes that focused on vocational skills and learning English.

That was the initial purpose of establishing Stewart Indian School in 1890, the only boarding school of its kind in Nevada. It was overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a branch of the federal government.

However, the school’s story is one of resilience. Starting in the 1930s, it evolved into a true academic institution where Native students from over 200 tribes practiced art, learned trades and valuable life skills, participated in sports, and more. Some students willingly enrolled themselves, as they hoped to get an get an education, have a career or go on to college. Stewart Indian School became more than a way to assimilate Natives—it was a budding community.

In 1985, the school was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. From 2017-2019, the State of Nevada created the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum. To make sure the full story is shared with future generations, the Stewart Cultural Advisory Committee—made up of Stewart alumni and family members—manages the cultural center and museum.

What You’ll See When You Visit Now

Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum offers a unique opportunity to learn more about Nevada’s Native culture. It’s a journey through time and proof of the strength of the human spirit.

The main building itself is a beautifully and thoughtfully designed gallery containing memorabilia from days past, alumni, and local Native artists. Right when you walk in, there’s an image of the Sierra Nevada mountain range by photographer Larry Burton above a sign that says “welcome” in four Native languages. The artist’s purpose was to give a sense of place of these Native homelands.

In fact, the building itself is worth spending some time to admire. It was handmade by Stewart Indian School students in 1923, who learned about stonemasonry from local Hopi stonemasons. If you tour the entire campus with a free audio tour—which is shared with several government facilities, including the Nevada Department of Corrections—you can see the unique stones that make up several buildings.

More experiences you can expect when you visit:

  • A timeline of the school’s history, an installment that spans an entire wall
  • First person accounts from alumni in audio and video touchscreens
  • Student desks, clothing, trophies, toys
  • photographs of students over the years, and letters from parents to the school staff
  • Paintings and drawings
  • Research Room with yearbooks and photographs Healing Reflection Room with information on where families can get help for the historical trauma caused by the boarding school experience
  • Great Basin Native Artists Gallery with contemporary Great Basin Native art
  • Storytelling Room as a family friendly space for children with native authored children’s books and documentary of Stewart’s history
  • Classroom space to offer classes in languages, beading, and basket weaving

Be sure to swing by this museum the next time you’re in Carson City! This is a truly powerful attraction—and a bit of a hidden gem. They are open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding federal and state holidays.