When news broke of the mass graves found in Canada at residential schools earlier this year, one young cross country runner in Nevada thought of his own family.
Ku Stevens, Yerington Paiute Tribe, is 17, and a runner. His great grandfather Frank Quinn attended the Stewart Indian School in 1913. Quinn ran away three times.
The Canadian residential schools were modeled after the U.S. government run boarding schools that started in the late 1800s.
The U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, called for an investigation to look into boarding schools.
In the midst of the news, the Nevada high schooler decided to retrace his great-grandfather's escape route, when he fled boarding school back in 1913.
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His route home went across the desert between Carson City and Yerington.
Stevens retraced those steps this past weekend.
Before the run, Stevens was emotional at the Stewart Indian Boarding School, which was turned into a cultural center and museum last year.
“To anybody else here, you just see these old buildings, you know, you see the cool rocks on the walls and the old window panes," Stevens said. "You can tell it’s an old place but to me you know what happened here and it’s a lot different to anyone just coming here visiting, it's a lot more persona."
His family organized a two day “Remembrance Run” to honor the young people, like his great-grandfather, who were forced into boarding schools.
The journey took Stevens uphill.
“As an 8 year old to cross 50 miles over these hills, that’s a feat,” Stevens said about Quinn.
Stevens ran during the day. His family says it’s more likely his great-grandfather Frank ran at night to avoid being seen.
But Frank wasn’t the only one who attempted to run away.
Stacey Montooth, Walker River Paiute, executive director of Nevada’s Indian Commission, said the young people at the school were not in good health and were not fed well.
Clothing was often an issue and they were given a uniform and hand me down shoes that were left over from U.S. soldiers, Montooth said.
“But again we have first hand accounts of these types of very heroic, just absolutely courageous attempts by these young people to get back to their families,” Montooth said.
Often the federal government would pay people to find runaways.
This happened at dozens of other government-run boarding schools for Native children.
“Federal representatives, people who were paid by Uncle Sam to round up students to take them to very far away intuitions for boarding school, also bounties were put out for young Indian children,” Montooth said.
Stevens’ great-grandmother Hazel was hidden by her family, who denied her existence when government officials came looking for her.
The Stewart Indian School operated from about 1890 to 1980, it was one of hundreds of military-style boarding schools across the U.S. and Canada.
“The point of it all is to educate people on what happened to our people and what happened in Canada,” Stevens said
His journey started at the Stewart Indian School and ended at the Yerington Paiute tribe.
“It didn’t really hit me until the end what I was doing running down that hill, you know, seeing my valley, my home, just my peoples’ land out here, man, goosebumps all the way down,” Stevens said.
Stevens ended his journey with a celebration from friends and family.
He says he even felt his ancestors on his feet and he knows what he would say to his great grandfather if he was here today.
“Thanks for getting me this far because without him and the decisions he would have made to even run away from here, if he didn't, I couldn't possibly be here. Thanks for being a good man and wanting to be with your family and wanting to support them anyway you could. (Because) that’s family, you know, you would do anything for them,” Stevens said.
Stevens is heading into his senior year of high school, he posted the second fastest time in the state in the 1,000-meter (4:23.16) and in the 3,200-meter (9:47.26).