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Teen Honors Great-Grandfather's Escape From Tribal School


Ku Stevens, right, and his father Delmar Stevens, visit the Stewart Indian School in Carson City. The younger Stevens plans to run from the campus to Yerrington, recreating his great-grandfather's efforts to escape the tribal school.

The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at tribal schools in Canada inspired a Native American teenager from Northern Nevada to recreate his great-grandfather’s escape from a similar school near Carson City.

Yerington Paiute tribal member Ku Stevens, one of the top prep cross-country runners in the state, plans to retrace the steps of his great-grandfather, Frank Quinn. He ran away from the Stewart Indian School three times, starting when he was 8.

Stevens had heard families stories about his great-grandfather his whole life but has grown to appreciate his courage.

“As of recently, I've kind of really understood the weight of what he had to do,” Stevens told State of Nevada, “and that's why we're trying to do this right now.”

The Yerington High School senior will honor his great-grandfather next month with a 50-mile run to bring awareness to the history of children being taken from families under a policy of forced assimilation of native peoples.

Unlike his great-grandfather, Stevens will not be traveling alone: The public is invited to join him Aug. 14-15 on what he is calling the Remembrance Run, which will go from the Stewart school campus to Yerington.

“It’s going to be an event for everybody,” Stevens said. “There'll be breaks every five miles, making everyone's hydrated and staying good and where they should be.”

Stevens plans to cover about 25 mostly uphill miles the first day and finish on the second after a campout. He is the lone runner on his high school cross country team and this spring posted some of the best times in the state for 1,600 and 3.200 meters

He has gotten support and coaching from his father, Delmar Stevens, who tries to imagine the emotional toll the boarding school experience took on his family.

“I’m trying to place myself in their shoes as a parent — if somebody tried to come and take Ku away from myself and my wife, Misty, and how hard that would be, especially if you didn't do anything wrong,” Delmar Stevens said. “You were just being a family and along came the government and removes your children from you.”

The Stewart Indian School operated from 1890 to 1980 and is now a museum that details the effort to assimilate young people by cutting them off from their families, language, and culture.

Canada is facing a reckoning over the recent discoveries of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at some of its old tribal schools. That prompted the federal government in the United States to start an investigation of U.S. tribal schools, including the Stewart school.

Ku Stevens, planning Remembrance Run; Delmar Stevens, father and coach

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.