The Intermountain Indian School

Between WWII and 1985, the Bureau of Indian Affairs used the Bushnell Army Hospital to assimilate Native American students. Tribal animosities and civil-right abuses lead to riots.

Following WWII, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) converted the Bushnell Army Hospital—a multi-million dollar military facility—into a federally operated Indian Boarding School. Nestled up against the Wasatch Mountains in Brigham City, Utah, the Intermountain Indian School (IIS) became home to an annual 2,150 students, ages six to twenty-two, 600 of which spoke no English upon arrival. The IIS quickly became the largest of the remaining nineteen off-reservation boarding schools operated by the BIA in both size and number of students.

As with past models, the IIS emphasized English and other academic and vocational skills and prescribed the age-old practice of assimilating Indians into mainstream America—a type of education for extinction. In 1951, IIS superintendent George Boyce, in hopes of permanently removing Navajo children from their Indigenous cultures and communities, proudly announced that the IIS would approach assimilation of “these backward groups” through “a more informed attack” in order to Americanize the Navajo children that attended the school.

In the fall of 1974, they renamed the school the Intermountain Inter-Tribal School, choosing to enroll students from twenty-six other tribes from across the nation. Because of tribal animosities, riots erupted in February 1975, during which three police officers were injured and several police cars destroyed. Further, operating under conflict of constitutional and federal treaty requirements, the IIS was charged with numerous civil-rights lawsuits that described a number of personal abuses and violations of human rights. On May 17, 1984, the Intermountain Indian School closed its doors, ending over a century of federally-instituted American Indian boarding school programs.