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New Phoenix Indian School Visitors Center Hosts Grand Opening

The outside of the new Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center.

On October 14, after the Native American Recognition Days Parade, many former students and staff attended the grand opening of the new Phoenix Indian School Visitors Center.

The City of Phoenix, Native American Connections and Phoenix Indian Center partnered in a project to remodel the music building of the old Phoenix Indian School into a visitors center showcasing the history of the boarding school. Renovations to the 6,000-square-foot building, located just north of downtown Phoenix in Steele Indian School Park, were recently completed. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The afternoon started with a prayer from graduate Richard Saunders (Tohono O’odham), followed by a welcome from Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community President Delbert W. Ray, Sr., who shared how his family members attended the school, including his wife and grandmother.

“As I walked through the building, I saw a lot of history. I am a product of a boarding school, like many others here today are,” he said. “We will feel the presence of those who attended school here.”

A ribbon cutting took place inside the former school's visitors center, with alumni and those who helped contribute to the visitors center.
Thousands of Native American students attended Phoenix Indian School during its 99 years of operation. Like other Indian boarding schools across the country, it hosted Native students from elementary through high school who left their homes and families on reservations to live at the school and receive a Westernized education that often diminished the importance of their tribal heritage.

Ray continued, “Sometimes [education philosophies and experiences offered at Indian boarding schools] meant to harm us, but we are persevering. We continue to do what we have to do to take our people forward. We will continue to be a force in this world through education and other means.”

Phoenix Indian School opened its doors in 1891, and many of the original students also helped build it. Three of the 29 school buildings remain today within the park.

When visitors enter the building, they walk into the gallery space, which tells the important history of the school. Trophies, photos and other mementos of the school are on display. The gallery space is free and open to the public.

SRPMIC President Delbert W. Ray, Sr. gives welcoming remarks during the grand opening. The gallery area features basketball championship trophies won through the years by the Phoenix Indian School Braves.
The new facility also has a conference room that holds up to 120 people, a 25-person classroom and a business and boardroom. These three rooms are available for rent to outside organizations. There is also a commercial kitchen.

The entire Phoenix Indian School campus holds significant history and meaning for the City of Phoenix and many local and Southwest tribal communities.

During the grand opening, guests enjoyed food from food-truck vendors, listened to music and walked around the old campus, which includes the recently renovated auditorium.

The event concluded with a ribbon-cutting featuring school alumni and delegates from Phoenix and tribal communities.