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Community Members Share Phoenix Indian School Memories as Reunion Nears

Memorial Hall at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix. The building is one of three remaining from the old Phoenix Indian School, near Central Avenue and Indian School Road.

Back in 1978, he was President Melvin Thomas.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community member was a popular teenager at Phoenix Indian School in the late 1970s. Thomas competed in basketball, football and track and was elected student body president his senior year in 1978, a year after being elected vice-president.

“It was a good school,” he said. “It was fun. It kept me busy and it kept me out of trouble.”

Like Thomas, many Community members attended the Native American boarding school near downtown Phoenix. The school was open for 99 years. It closed in 1990, and most of the old school buildings are gone. The City of Phoenix bought the land and opened Steele Indian School Park in 2001 on the old school site at the corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road. Only three buildings remain, including the renovated Memorial Hall.

The Heard Museum in Phoenix has teamed up with Native American Connections and the Phoenix Indian Center to host a Phoenix Indian School alumni reunion on October 8. The reunion celebrates the 125th anniversary of the founding of the school and coincides with the Native American Recognition Days parade and planning related to the Heard Museum’s popular, ongoing exhibit Remembering Our Indian School Days: The Boarding School Experience.

Alumni are encouraged to march in the morning parade that ends at Steele Indian School Park.

“We are excited because for many of the alumni, coming inside the Memorial Hall will be the first time they’ve done that since they left school,” said Patty Talahongva, community development manager with Native American Connections.

Another original building on the school campus is being restored: Native American Connections and the Phoenix Indian Center are overseeing the restoration of the former music building, which is set to open in the spring.

SRPMIC member Carol Silversmith spent most of her high school years at Phoenix Indian School in the early 1970s. She briefly attended Stewart Indian School in Carson City, Nev. She then moved back home, and instead of attending Mesa’s Westwood High School, she went to Phoenix Indian School.

Some of her favorite high school memories were playing volleyball and softball and attending chicken scratch dances with friends.

“I met some good people at Phoenix Indian School,” Silversmith said. “We had people from all over the place.”

Silversmith is a legal secretary in the Community’s Office of General Counsel.

Thomas isn’t sure if he will attend the reunion, but he said he’ll always cherish his four years at Phoenix Indian School. He excelled in school and only had to take one class his senior year while working part-time in the pharmacy department at the nearby Phoenix VA Hospital. He bought a bicycle, and on some weekends, he’d ride it back to the Community.

Today, Thomas works for the Community’s Senior Home Repair and Replacement Program.

“The thing I remember most is the amount of different tribes,” Thomas said. “We all bonded. It was the first time for a lot of Indians to be off the reservation and experience the city life.”

Save the Date:

Phoenix Indian School Reunion, Saturday, October 8

Native American Recognition Days parade starts at 9 a.m. at Third and Oak streets and ends at Steele Indian School Park.

Memorial Hall tour starts at 10 a.m. and is by RSVP only. Alumni can bring one guest and can RSVP at PILegacyProject@nativeconnections.org.