Young native girls stanging in rows in matching uniforms
Girls at Ouray Boarding School in Whiterocks, undated. Used by permission of Uintah County Library Regional History Center, all rights reserved.

How Utah boarding schools stripped Native students of their culture

Content warning

This story includes descriptions of abuse of Indigenous children and families and racist language used by boarding school administrators.

Native leaders have called for additional mental health support as Indigenous communities learn more about this history through an ongoing Interior Department investigation.

The Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake provides outpatient mental health services. Learn more at Learn about services of the Utah Navajo Health System at

Find the Tribal Resource Tool at

Mark Maryboy still remembers the fists that came out of the darkness as he lay in bed, the blows landing on his stomach, his arms, his face.

He could hear the same happening to his little brother, Herbert, in the next bed over in the dorm room.

Maryboy was 8 years old. His brother was 7. And they began to fear when the lights would go out each night at the boarding school for Navajo children in Aneth.

The students at the southern Utah school were cut off from their family and their culture, Maryboy said. Their long black hair was cut short; their days were regimented; they were forbidden to speak their language or to pray as they did at home. And Maryboy said the staff did nothing about the assaults from the older boys who attended.

In his second year there, he grabbed his brother and the two ran away.

“It was an awful place to be,” said Maryboy, now in his 60s.

close up image of Mark Maryboy
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Maryboy in Bluff in 2017

Today, he welcomes the federal investigation now underway into the nation’s boarding schools for Indigenous children, including those in Utah.

Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe and the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet, has promised “a comprehensive review of the troubled legacy of federal boarding school policies,” which forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of Native American children from their communities nationwide for over 150 years.

“I hope that they identify the problems that I experienced,” Maryboy said. “Abuse is the hardest thing to deal with. It weighs on your mind for the rest of your life.”

The Indigenous-led nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah has offered to assist in the investigation, and it has its own questions it wants answered. Chief among those: Who financially benefitted from these schools?

With support from the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting, The Salt Lake Tribune will try to help answer that question, exploring the history of Utah’s schools and how intergenerational trauma they’ve caused continues to harm students and families today. We’ll also look into how Indigenous boarding schools still open in Utah strive to provide an education that safeguards and celebrates Indigenous culture. 

We’re inviting you to share your questions, your knowledge and your experience with us.

So far, through interviews with Utahns who attended the schools and federal reports, The Tribune has identified eight boarding schools and dormitories that existed in Utah — including three that operate today in the state. The total number of Indigenous boarding schools in Utah over the decades has not previously been clearly identified.

On April 1, the Interior Department is expected to release a report detailing known and possible burial sites at or near the schools nationwide.

Using federal reports, The Tribune now has tallied at least 50 student deaths at two early boarding schools in the Uinta Basin. Last year, The Tribune reported that the bodies of 12 Paiute children are likely buried at the site of a former boarding school they were forced to attend in Panguitch.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Carl Slater said the federal government should plan to provide resources, such as mental health services, to Native children and families who will be learning more about the legacies of boarding schools.

“You can’t bring up traumatic issues that you created and then not address it without providing adequate health care,” the lawmaker said. “We know how traumatized our communities are; you need to support that at the same time.”

The violence against Native children has been physical, spiritual, emotional and mental, Slater said. “You’re specifically targeting our students to ‘assimilate’ them, which is an incredibly violent act.”

Utah tribal members and families know their own stories, but the extent of abuse at the schools has never been fully known or shared, Maryboy said.

“Books never mention this,” added Woody Lee, executive director Utah Diné Bikéyah, who attended a boarding school in Arizona. “There’s not a whole lot that’s out there to give [our children] a picture of the turmoil we went through.”


Eight schools across Utah

Interactive map: Utah's eight boarding schools and dormitories. Please select a location icon to read more about each boarding school.

Wasahkie Washakie Brigham City Ibapah Joseph Richfield Panguitch Kanab Navajo Mountain Bluff AllenCanyon Blanding Randlett Whiterocks Aneth St. George Santa Clara

Goshute Tribal Lands

Historic areas
Current reservation boundaries

Paiute Tribal Lands

Historic areas
Current reservation boundaries

Shoshone Tribal Lands

Historic areas
Current reservation boundaries

Ute Tribal Lands

Historic areas
Current reservation boundaries


Boarding schools Day schools

Utah's eight boarding schools and dormitories

Historic photo of boys in matching uniforms
Boys at Uintah Boarding School at Whiterocks, undated. Used by permission of Uintah County Library Regional History Center, all rights reserved.

Uintah School: ‘Even the smallest girls’ put to work

Location: Whiterocks, Utah

Years open: 1874 to 1952

Bands of the Ute Tribe roamed a wide region that included what is today Utah and Colorado. By the early 1870s, the Uintah Band had been pushed onto its reservation in the Uinta Basin, about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City.

In an 1874 report to the U.S. Department of Interior, federal agent John J. Critchlow said he was eager to open a “boarding manual-labor school” for Ute children.

His first version — a day school he and his wife taught out of their home — faltered, opening and closing for a lack of funds and interest from Ute parents. Critchlow wrote to the department complaining that he must keep the children “from the demoralizing influences in their lodges.

”He won support after a visit to Washington D.C. and in January 1881, the Uintah Boarding School opened — the first Indian boarding school in Utah, launched just two years after the infamous Carlisle Indian Industrial School started in Pennsylvania

The Presbyterian Board of Missions held the initial contract to run the school, according to Critchlow’s annual report, and it initially had 13 students. But after two months, none remained. The Presbyterians withdrew their support.

Historic image of children at Uintah Boarding School
Ute students standing in a line outside Uintah Boarding School at Whiterocks, undated. Used by permission of Uintah County Library Regional History Center, all rights reserved.

“The Indians made many excuses for not sending their children to school,” Critchlow wrote. “They were ignorant and superstitious and feared that harm might come to their boys and girls.”

The harms the students endured at the school were ignored, or unrecognized, and downplayed by Critchlow and the early federal agents and superintendents who followed him.

Aiming to sever the children from their culture, the school cut their traditional long hair, required them to wear uniform clothing, forbid them to speak their language, taught a rigid academic curriculum foreign to them and pressed them into manual labor for hours a day. In racist language, year after year, federal agents dismissed the traditions and concerns of Ute parents, even when students died.

The Department of Interior formally took over school operations in 1883, and the federal government ran the Uintah Boarding School for the next seven decades.

In that first year, as 17 students attended, the teacher wrote that the “Indian pupils are not as bright as white children.” The boys cut wood and did gardening. The girls did sewing, washing and cooking. A later report notes: “Even the smallest girls were required to do such work as they could perform in the various departments.”

Such labor by Indigenous children — for decades, across the country — benefited the schools more than the children, the influential Meriam report pointed out in 1928.

The official Course of Study for Indian Schools, the report noted, conceded that boarding schools “could not possibly be maintained on the amounts appropriated by Congress … were it not for the fact that students [i.e., children] are required to do the washing, ironing, baking, cooking, sewing; to care for the dairy, farm, garden, grounds, buildings, etc. — an amount of labor that has in the aggregate a very appreciable monetary value.”

In early years in the Uinta Basin, some Ute parents refused to send their children unless they were paid for their work. The government responded to them, and to other parents who refused to have their children attend, by no longer providing rations to those families, according to a superintendent’s report. Soldiers were also called to forcibly enroll students. Some Utes hid out in the mountains to avoid that; others tried to fight back. 

In 1884, Critchlow proposed sending all of the children to Eastern schools to cut them off further from their families. Some were transferred to Carlisle or to a school in Grand Junction, Colo.

By 1896, there were 66 Ute children attending the Uintah Boarding School, and that is the first year that the federal reports note a death. One girl, the superintendent wrote, “died with consumption,” which likely meant tuberculosis. 

There is no official total of how many children died at the school or at any Indigenous boarding school in the country. But according to annual Interior reports available up until 1930 (still 22 years short of when the school closed), at least 33 deaths were reported at the Uintah Boarding School between 1896 and 1904.

In one year — 1901 — 17 of the 65 students were reported to have died of measles. It’s possible there were more deaths, overall, at the school or related to attendance there. 

Forrest Cuch, a former education director for the Ute Tribe, believes some of the students who died were buried on the school grounds. 

Cuch’s mother, Josephine LaRose Cuch, attended the school for a few years, starting when she was 6 or 7 years old in the 1920s. 

“The harshness that they experienced, that I know of, was being forbidden to speak the Ute language. That was quite painful and traumatic to them,” Cuch said.

Children were also not allowed to practice their traditions — such as the Bear Dance — or wear traditional clothes, Cuch said, and they were forced at times to attend an adjoining Episcopal Church (the faith, though, did not sponsor the school).

The school later hired some Ute staff members, and they were expected to enforce its policies. Cuch’s great-aunt, Ethel Grant, came to regret her employment there, Cuch said, and worked to restore the language among the tribe’s kids. 

“She was really heartbroken about that, that at one point in her life she was an oppressor or colonializer,” he said.

Historic image of children at Uintah Boarding School
Boys at Uintah Boarding School at Whiterocks, undated. Used by permission of Uintah County Library Regional History Center, all rights reserved.

After the Randlett boarding school built for the Uncompahgre band closed in 1905, its students transferred to Uintah Boarding School. The Whiterocks school hit its enrollment peak in the 1920s and 1930s; by 1927, the school had expanded from elementary grades to includes classes up to eighth grade.

In 1931, The Roosevelt Standard reported that 125 students were attending, with about half of them also boarding there.

The school closed on June 30, 1952, as the federal government promoted the transfer of Native American students into public school systems, according to Fred Conetah, the Ute author of “A History of the Northern Ute People.” A fire destroyed the remaining buildings in 1974. 

In the public school system, Cuch charges, Indigenous students were neglected and left to fail. In the 1970s, the dropout rate for the Ute Tribe’s students hit 90%, he said.

Test scores for Indigenous students in Uintah School District today remain significantly behind their white peers in most subjects. “The picture hasn’t changed much,” Cuch said. 

Today, the Ute tribe has more than 3,000 members, with about half living on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation. It operates its own charter school, Uintah River Charter High School, for students who are falling through the cracks — a gap Cuch sees as part of the legacy of boarding schools.

Historic photo of students in front of a brick building
Students and staff pose in front of the Ouray School at Randlett, undated. Used by permission of Uintah County Library Regional History Center, all rights reserved.

Ouray School: ‘Every effort to suppress ... the Ute language’

Location: Randlett, Utah

Years open: 1883 to 1905

The Uncompahgre and White River Utes were living in western Colorado in 1880 when Congress passed a law disbanding the Uncompahgre Reservation there. Two years later, a new Uncompahgre Reservation was created in Utah.

In 1883, a day school opened in Randlett for the Uncompahgre band. But an 1885 report notes that no children lived within 7 miles, and attendance was small. The school year ended in 1886 after two months. 

In his report that year, the clerk in charge of the Ouray Agency displayed the racist and paternalistic viewpoint that was widespread in early Indigenous boarding schools.

The tribe bitterly opposed the school, William A. McKewen wrote, “but their wishes in this respect should not be consulted.” He called Ute children “typical little savages,” urging a transition to a boarding school and compulsory attendance.

“The power should be here to force them to give up their barbarous practices, superstitions, and narrow prejudices, and walk in the paths laid out for them,” he wrote.

Buildings for the boarding school were completed in 1893, and about 12 kids were enrolled. By the next year, there were 44 students. The boys did manual labor outside, farming and taking care of livestock. The girls were made to do housework, sewing and cleaning. 

The Ouray school followed the era’s model of trying to eliminate the culture of Indigenous students. Superintendent Charles A. Walker later reported: “We have used every effort to suppress the use of the Ute language among the children, with fair results.”

The school administrator’s reports to the U.S. Department of Interior first note the death of a student in 1896, with no cause given in the brief mention. 

The following year, attendance started to decrease. Two more students died, with Walker attributing the deaths to tuberculosis but claiming the children were in “poor physical condition” when they arrived.

Even after these early deaths, Acting Indian Agent James F. Randlett blamed parents who did not enroll their children for being superstitious.

“The Uncompahgres from the start viewed the school with prepossessed opinion that it was a place of restraint and confinement, from the effects of which the children would sicken and die,” Randlett wrote in his annual report for 1897.

There is no official total of how many students died at the school. But according to annual Interior reports for Ouray Boarding School, 17 student deaths were reported from 1896 to 1903. Many were attributed to “poor health” and tuberculosis, with others likely due to the repeated measles outbreaks.

Forrest Cuch, a former education director for the Ute Tribe, believes it’s possible some of those students were buried at the school. 

By 1905, the school was closed, with remaining students transferred to the Uintah Boarding School to the north, attended by the Uintah and White River bands. Although the Ouray school reopened decades later as a public day school, the buildings no longer exist today.


Panguitch School: Separating students from families

Location: north of Panguitch, Utah 

Years open: 1904 to 1909

Historic photo of students
(Arizona Memory Project) Native students at the boarding school just north of Panguitch, Utah, with then-Superintendent Walter Runke, around 1906.


This smaller and little-known federal boarding school drew attention last summer when tribal leaders announced their initial research indicates at least 12 Paiute children are likely buried in unmarked graves there.

“America has a great way of covering up the ugly, when they don’t want people to know about the genocide that happened and just all of the real history that took place,” said Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, band chairperson for the Indian Peaks Band of Paiute Indians.

Utah State University, which now owns the land north of Panguitch, plans to apply ground-penetrating radar to the 150-acre site. A memorandum between the school and tribe is still in the works.

Historic photo of students in and an adult man sitting on a bench
(Arizona Memory Project) Native students at the boarding school just north of Panguitch, Utah, with then-Superintendent Walter Runke, around 1906.

When excavation begins, though, Panguitch may become the first in Utah to confirm children died and were buried on-site at an Indigenous boarding school.

The Panguitch school began in 1904, the successor to a day school in St. George that had been closer to students’ families. The move intentionally separated young children from their culture. Borchardt-Slayton said some students were forced to leave their parents at gunpoint.

About 25 to 40 students attended each year, according to school rosters from the Department of Interior. Most were Paiutes.

In one firsthand account from a former student there, Mabel Drye, she said children who “kept doing things wrong” were forced to stay for the full year, instead of being allowed a two-month summer break to see their family, according to the record kept by the National Park Service.

Documents also point to sordid living conditions and regular illnesses among the children. In the school’s first annual report to Congress, Superintendent Laura B. Work acknowledged a student had died. She said staff saved “three others only by dint of long, weary nursing and a big doctor’s bill.”

Through historical documents, it’s possible to confirm four more deaths after that at the school, including two students who likely died of tuberculosis: Alex Pagumpageta, who was 14 years old, and Theodore Pinkie, who was 16. 

In 1909, with attendance dwindling and children continuing to get sick, the Panguitch school was shut down. The land was transferred from the federal government to the state, and Utah used it as an experiment for high-altitude farming for a few years.

Old farming building in a large field
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The 150-acre Panguitch Research Farm, shown in 2021, is the former location of the Panguitch Boarding School.

Today, it sits mostly vacant.

After the Paiute Indian Tribe revealed the likelihood of unmarked graves at the site, members of the Shivwits Band and Kaibab Band went on a private visit to the boarding school grounds.

Paiute leaders have indicated they intend to give any children buried there a proper, culturally appropriate interment. In a statement in September, Chairwoman Corrina Bow asked for privacy for members to grieve and said the tribe didn’t plan to make any further comments.

“It is premature to speculate on what will be discovered at the site, and we may only be scratching the surface at what could be revealed,” Bow said. “We want to be respectful and honor our ancestors, their families, and properly address this heartbreaking and tragic injustice of our history.”


Aneth School: Historically ‘run like a military’

Location: Aneth, Utah

Years open: Successive schools, early 1900s to today

Historic image of two young children on bicycles with a dog
The Navajo Education Newletter, published by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, reported in May 1974 that the agency was renewing the 1954 agreements that created bordertown dormitories.

Methodist missionary Howard R. Antes opened an early boarding school for Navajo children in Aneth, offering a “rudimentary curriculum” based on the Bible at his Navajo Faith Mission, according to a profile of Antes by Robert S. McPherson in the Utah Historical Quarterly.

The school started in 1899 and continued for eight years; the highest enrollment it reached was 15 students, wrote McPherson, a professor emeritus of history at the Blanding campus of Utah State University. At one point, he added, Navajo parents objected that students were not properly fed and clothed.

Antes sold the buildings to the government for a new federal boarding school — but shortly after they were remodeled, they were washed away by the San Juan River in 1919, McPherson wrote. 

Aneth School, a two-classroom federal boarding school for beginning learners, was built in the late 1930s, with a dormitory added in the 1940s. But years later, it wasn’t keeping up with the influx of families drawn by oil and gas development, according to an Interior Department appropriations hearing.

The department awarded a $2 million contract in 1963 to build a new school, with two dormitories, classrooms and other buildings. The existing school had room for about 60 students, the department said, and the expansion would create dormitory space for almost 400.

In the 1960s, the new Aneth Community School was heralded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs for how it taught English to Indigenous students. 

Mark Maryboy speaking at a podium
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mark Maryboy, who attended the Aneth Boarding School in the 1960s, speaks in support of the Bears Ears National Monument at the Utah Capitol in 2016.

But Mark Maryboy, who was attending as a young boy around 1966 or 1967, said it was a harrowing experience to attend.

His hair was cut; he was forbidden to speak his language; and staff did not protect him and his brother from assaults by the older boys, Maryboy said.

He was used to praying each morning and evening in his family’s hogan, he said, asking for protection and health. He was forbidden from doing so at Aneth.

“We were fresh off the reservation, where we were free to roam wherever we want,” he recalled. “Then, all of the sudden, we were in a very confined structure. … It was run like a military, no freedom.”

Maryboy, a former Navajo Nation Council delegate and former San Juan County commissioner, believes the school’s drive to strip students of their culture and push them to adopt white ways fueled a lot of anger among students.

“The other kids were very hostile, and I was fighting kids, defending my brother almost every night,” Maryboy said.

School sign with a water tower in the background
(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A sign for today's Aneth Community School, overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education.

It was winter when the Maryboy brothers ran away. He remembers snow blanketing the red sandstone as they walked roughly 30 miles back home. They begged their parents to not have to return, he said. And they didn’t.

Today, Aneth Community School, overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education, continues to offer a residential program, though some students come just during the day for its elementary classes. Although school officials declined to be immediately interviewed, its core beliefs include a pledge to “honor and celebrate our Navajo Language and Culture.”


Blanding Dormitory

Location: Blanding, Utah

Years open: 1930s to 1941

Not much is recorded about this dormitory in San Juan County.

A federal register says it was open in Blanding for three years, starting in 1938, and Interior Department budgets say Ute children lived there while attending a day school in Allen Canyon.

But in a 1975 interview, Blanding resident Grace Shumway said the dormitory was open for 11 years —  in a private home, beginning in 1930 — and that Ute children lived in the home while attending public school in town.

Historic photo of students in front of a brick building
(Rick Bowmer | AP, pool) Near Blanding, Utah, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits Bears Ears National Monument in April 2021. The nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah has asked Haaland to investigate conditions at a dormitory that boarded Ute students in Blanding in the 1930s and 1940s.

“While the Utes were living at the dorm, the supervisors could keep them clean and dressed appropriately and the school did not object to their enrollment,” Lyle S. Heinz wrote in his master’s thesis at Brigham Young University, citing his interview with Shumway.  

A large home wrapped with a spacious porch is shown in  “Early San Juan County” by LaVerne Tate, who wrote that then-owner Evelyn Bayles rented the house to the Utes in the 1930s for the dormitory.

The dorm is also briefly mentioned in “The Ute Indians of Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico” by Virginia McConnell Simmons. Simmons wrote that it was home to mostly Paiute and Ute students, as well as some Navajo children.

One girl who attended, she said, “remembers more about homesickness than about her classes.” 

Utah Diné Bikéyah includes the Blanding Dormitory on its list of Utah boarding schools that it wants the federal government to investigate.

Diné Bikéyah also includes the school at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Mission to the south, in Bluff. It doesn’t appear that the mission regularly boarded students.

The mission started the school  in 1944 in an Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) shack, according to the successful filing to list the complex on the National Register of Historic Places. A red sandstone school building was built in 1951-52.

“Instead of insisting the Navajos learn only Anglo culture and worship traditions,” the filing said,  Father  H. Baxter Liebler “learned Navajo customs and rudimentary language skills and blended the two.” 

A large tree in front of a building
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Today, Richfield Residential Hall is a college preparatory program that serves about 100 students who attend schools in the Sevier School District. Most of the students are Diné children from the Navajo Nation.

Richfield Dormitory: A shift into public schools

Location: Richfield, Utah

Years open: 1954 to today

In the 1950s, migrant farmers from the Navajo Nation moved north from their Dinétah homelands to work in Richfield’s sugar beet and potato fields, as they followed jobs through agricultural seasons in Utah and across the Intermountain West.

For many Diné people, the farming jobs in Richfield were the first time wage work became part of their way of life. As their parents worked in the fields, Diné children played alongside the planting and harvests.

The migrant families organized and asked the Sevier School District to allow their children to attend school, said David Ogden, who served as Richfield’s mayor from 2014 to 2021.

Tribal and community leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worked together to win federal support for a dormitory for Diné children, according to M. Guy Bishop, author of “A History of Sevier County.”

Richfield became one of several communities that signed agreements in 1954 to enroll Diné students in public schools, according to The Navajo Yearbook, published by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The first students lived in barracks-style housing in a Main Street building that had been empty, and the first building of what became known as the Richfield bordertown dormitory was built in 1954, according to its website.

The dormitory brought jobs to Richfield in construction and as staff, and the program also infused federal money into the school district.

Two reports, in 1965 and 1971, evaluated the success of residential boarding schools near reservation lands, including Richfield’s dormitory. The first report observed that Diné children weren’t participating in school clubs and sports programs, and often mingled only with each other, rather than with children from other racial backgrounds. The report suggested cultural sensitivity efforts were needed to encourage Diné children to participate in student government, for example.

Cleveland Shortman chose to live in the Richfield dormitory and attend Richfield High School, where he graduated in 1980.

A fence with a circular sign for Richfield Residential Hall
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The campus of Richfield Residential Hall in Richfield, Utah.

Shortman was raised by his grandmother. His father worked for a railroad and his mother held seasonal jobs that took her away from home, he said. He was 6 years old when his parents enrolled him at Shonto Boarding School in the Navajo Nation.

Some children looked out the windows, crying for their homes, he remembers. The older students, likely 11 and 12 years old, served as instant parents to younger children, he said.

“We did not know any English,” said Shortman, now 61. And as the children missed their families, they faced academic drills. “We were on a daily basis going through our ABCs and 123. And it took us a while, maybe two, three months to get used to all the other kids as a younger student.”

Like many other Indigenous children who attended boarding schools, Shortman had his hair cut at the boarding school. Disciplinary actions at the school included the use of leather belts or being brushed by a broom, he said.

Knowing that Navajo migrant farmers had helped to establish the Richfield dorm for Diné children made Shortman curious as he grew older and was promoted from eighth grade at Shonto Boarding School.

“I had heard some good things, mostly academically, that you went to public schools rather than the dorms,” he said. “We stayed in the dorm studying, but we went up to public school with the community.”

In 2020, Shortman celebrated with his daughter, Binahozho Shortman, as she also graduated from Richfield High. She attended while living at what is today the Richfield Residential Hall, a college preparatory program that serves about 100 mostly Diné children from the Navajo Nation.

A woman in a cap and gown smiles with her parents in front of a fence
(Courtesy of Cleveland Shortman) Cleveland Shortman, left, and his wife, Laura Shortman, right, stand with their daughter, Binahozho Shortman, center, after her 2020 graduation from Richfield High School. She attended while, like her father, living in the Richfield Residential Hall.

Any student with a certificate of Indian blood from a federally recognized tribe qualifies to stay at  the residential hall, which has become competitive, said Cody Workman, its executive director. 

Because of its foundation, the residential hall emphasizes a Diné curriculum to keep students connected to their homelands, Workman said. This is done through teaching the Diné language and about tribal government, and by holding cultural events like sheep butchering, winter storytelling and other components required through the Navajo Department of Diné Education.

The students, who range in age from 14 to 18 years old, also have access to counselors for help adjusting to homesickness or other issues they may experience, living hundreds of miles away from home.

Families value the education, but also the adaptability and resiliency students develop at the residential hall, Shortman said.

“That is why we encourage our kids to go out there,” he said. “We want them to be independent where they can be comfortable being away from home.”


Intermountain Indian School: A mixed legacy

Four young women in graduation caps and gowns
(Utah State Historical Society) Graduates at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, undated.

Location: Brigham City, Utah

Years open: 1950 to 1984

This boarding school was not only the largest in Utah, but the largest in the country.

It began with about 600 kids bused hundred of miles north from their homes on the Navajo Nation. And, at its peak, it housed more than 2,000 students from ages 6 to 22. 

“First time when I showed up here they had Greyhound buses lined up all the way around the campus,” said former student Lorina Antonio in an interview with KUER. 

Antonio attended in 1967 when she was 12 years old and stayed through graduation. 

The sprawling campus was converted from a military hospital for infantry injured in World War II that had closed in 1946 after more than 13,000 soldiers were treated there. The Bureau of Indian Affairs bought the property and began operating the boarding school four years later. 

Decades after the first federal boarding schools opened, the model was still to separate kids from their families. 

Superintendent George Boyce said in 1951 that he hoped removing Navajo children from their communities would assimilate “these backward groups.” He also called the program “a more informed attack,” according to a copy of his remarks from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University, which runs the website “Intermountain Histories.”

Still, the school did not approach assimilation as harshly as the first boarding schools. Students at the Intermountain Indian School could practice their culture. Many painted murals in the hallways, celebrating their traditions.

That artwork has become a defining remnant of the school since its closure. A team has worked to restore the pieces, and some are currently on display at Utah State University, which bought the property in 2012 and runs a Brigham City campus. 

Histroic aerial image of campus
(Utah State Historical Society) An aerial undated view of the Intermountain Indian School campus in Brigham City.

For the first 20 years it was open, the school served only Navajo students. Some raised concerns, including a group from the Navajo Tribal Council that came to visit and inspect the program. 

“Among the problems uncovered during the three days the council members were at the school was lack of discipline, poor attendance, drinking of alcoholic beverages, malicious mischief, glue sniffing and use of peyote,” the Navajo Times reported.

Campus buildngs
(Ryan Galbraith | The Salt Lake Tribune) Empty dormitories at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City in 2001.
2010 aerial image of campus
Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Empty buildings at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City in 2010.

In 1971, a group of students filed a lawsuit to shut down the school. They said administrators were drugging them with Thorazine if they drank alcohol. 

The lawsuit was dismissed but newspaper articles and USU’s website both confirm the use of the drug on kids. USU also notes that discipline included shaving the heads of students. And some raised concerns about the mixing of ages in the dorms leading to bullying. 

The teaching, too, especially in the earlier years, was mostly vocational training for gendered and low-income trades. Girls learned to clean houses. And boys to work as car mechanics or in agriculture. 

In 1975, the school opened up to other tribes and became the Intermountain Inter-Tribal School.

That also led to some animosity, and riots erupted in February 1975. 

But students also fought to keep the school open when Bureau of Indian Affairs officials started to discuss closure. They ran 24 miles, in an organized event, from Brigham City to the federal building in Ogden to speak to Utah’s congressional delegation. 

Some buildings remain today.

And many alumni still meet each year for reunions. Some repaint the “I” on the hill above the school grounds each fall.

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