January 7, 2015

5 Unique Examples of Preserving Native American Historic Sites

  • By: Kristi Eaton

By Kristi Eaton

Michael Brown, archaeologist for the Colorado Wickiup Project, records a wickiup in west central Colorado that dates to around A.D. 1795.

As the original inhabitants, Native Americans play a unique and significant part to the United States’ historic preservation efforts. In fact, Native American tribes have their own officers dedicated to preserving and restoring tribal history. (Learn more about tribal historic preservation officers, or THPOs, here.)

But for many of the more than 500 federally recognized tribes in the United States, that history is one of both pain and resiliency. Tribal members have said that some of the most painful experiences and memories include losing their land, being forced to relocate, and being forced to attend boarding schools. Restoring and preserving sites related to these periods can help educate today’s Native Americans as well as non-Native Americans about tribal history.

Below are some of the unique ways Native American communities are working in conjunction with state and federal agencies and private organizations to preserve tribal history and culture.

Stewart Indian School -- Carson City, Nevada

The Nevada Indian Commission envisions a permanent Cultural Center in the rehabilitated building that includes exhibits and oral history projects.

The Stewart Indian School is where Native American children in the western United States were sent to learn domestic, agricultural, and academic skills. Located near Carson City, the school was built to serve as many as 100 students when it opened its doors on Dec. 17, 1890.

Enrollment increased over the years and new buildings were constructed on the 240-acre property, including a hospital and recreation room. The school initially focused on vocational training, but transitioned to academics in the 1960s before it closed in 1980 due to budget cuts and safety issues.

The state of Nevada acquired the property in the 1990s. The Nevada Indian Commission envisions a permanent Cultural Center that would be located in a rehabilitated building and include exhibits and oral history projects to give Native Americans and non-Native Americans alike a better understanding of the school’s history while also promoting economic development in the area. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Colorado Wickiup Project -- throughout Colorado

A leaner-style wickiup, supported by the branches of a juniper tree, on a wickiup village in central Colorado that dates to A.D. 1853.

Archeological records show there are more than 330 wickiup sites, or Native American dwellings, in Colorado that are historic Ute (Nuche) camps dating from the mid- to late-19th century.

Since 2004, researchers with the Colorado Wickiup Project have been documenting and analyzing the archeological structures. So far, project researchers have visited 58 of the sites and documented 366 features, and many of the sites have been recommended for placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dwight Mission -- Vian, Oklahoma

Last June, the Cherokee Nation donated $120,000 to restore and preserve this former three-story school, which now functions as a retreat and conference center.

Originally built in Arkansas Territory for the Cherokee Indians in 1820, the Dwight Mission, which was named for Reverend Timothy Dwight of Yale University, was rebuilt in Indian Territory in 1828 when the Old Settler Cherokees were relocated to the area. A three-story schoolhouse opened in 1917, serving more than 100 children at its peak.

In 1948, the Dwight Mission School closed its doors, and the Presbyterian Church purchased the property in 1950. The Mission is now used as a retreat and conference center, and it underwent waterproofing and received new windows in 2007.

In June 2014, the Cherokee Nation donated $120,000 to restore and preserve the three-story school. The Walton Family Foundation pledged to match the donation dollar for dollar.

Halls Swamp Site -- Kingston, Massachusetts

Archeologists working at Halls Swamp Site have unearthed artifacts dating back at least 8,000 years.

The town of Kingston, Massachusetts, commissioned the Public Archaeology Laboratory (PAL) to investigate the Halls Swamp Site. Archeologists have found artifacts and evidence showing Native Americans lived at the site dating back at least 8,000 years, a discovery that Historical Commission members say is very significant and unique.

Researchers excavated just 1 percent of the site but unearthed a multitude of structures and items: spear points and tools for cutting, grinding, and sharpening as well as evidence that the Native Americans built wigwams. Members of the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes joined the archeologists at the site to monitor the progress and research.

Choctaw Indian Graves -- Kinta, Oklahoma

Mississippi Choctaw group wearing traditional garb, c. 1908.

A Choctaw Nation employee was researching her family history in 2013 when she uncovered the abandoned gravesites of two Choctaw Civil War Confederate soldiers, Private Henry Cooper and 2nd Lieutenant Jerry Riddle, who were the sons of Chief Mosholatubbee. (Chief Mosholatubbee led the tribe when they were forced to move to Indian Territory.)

They are among the approximately 50 gravesites, some with headstones, at King Cemetery. The tribe’s Historic Preservation office cleaned up the site and placed new headstones before a ceremony was held in May 2014 to dedicate the cemetery and honor the veterans.

Kristi Eaton is an Oklahoma-based journalist. Follow her on Twitter @KristiEaton or visit her website at kristieaton.com.

Kristi eaton

Kristi Eaton is a roving journalist, communications strategist and author of the book "The Main Streets of Oklahoma: Okie Stories From Every County." Visit her website at KristiEaton.com or follow her on Twitter to see photos from her travels.


Applications for the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund grant program are due December 15, 2021.

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