Steele Indian School Park sits on Indian School road in Phoenix. The names pay homage to the Phoenix Indian School, and serve as a reminder of a past that is not as far away as we would imagine.
Indian Schools: A Primer
Indian Schools are boarding schools established mostly in the late 19th century to assimilate the various tribes of Native Americans into the dominant culture of the United States (white European). The idea of assimilation started way back in the 1700s, most notably with correspondences between a man named Henry Knox and the first president, George Washington. The most famous Indian School, the Carlisle Indian School, was founded by Captain Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 and served as the model for many schools. The goal of the schools was simple: “save the man, kill the savage.” There are numerous horror stories about the conditions of the schools as well as the removal of children from their families and culture but they are far too numerous to elucidate on this humble blog.
Phoenix Indian School
There is a set of glass windows along the hand railing of the Indian School Park light rail stop in Phoenix. It gives an abridged and tidy version of the history of settlement in Arizona. I’d like to take a moment to talk about the “created a school” segment.
The school began operation in 1891. Its students were Yavapai, Papago, Hopi, Navajo, Maricopa, and various other tribes in the region. It became the second largest Indian School in the nation by the late 1890s. After World War II, the school became the Phoenix Indian High School, changing its curriculum to serve the post-war economy. The first enrollments trace back to 1967, lasting until the school’s final closure in 1990.
Let that sink in: There was still an Indian School from the 1800s running in 1990.
The school was turned into a park in 2001.
Steele Indian School Park
Since the closure of the school, only one original building, the Memorial Hall, remains standing on the property. It is a nice amphitheater-style setting, where you can rent the hall for private events, shows, or meetings. Thr grounds now host artificial lakes with fishing, a dog park, and community garden; a far-cry from what was once here. Many festivals take advantage of the central location and spacious land. It has become a community hub but we should never forget what was here or the impacts it has had on thousands of lives.