The Unresolved Legacy of Intermountain Indian Boarding School
In January 1950, Intermountain Indian Boarding School in Brigham City, Utah was established. In its first year, the school welcomed around 500 Navajo students. Twenty-four years later, in 1974, Intermountain opened its doors to students from nations outside of the Navajo and remained inter-tribal until it closed in 1984. In comparison with other Indian boarding schools in the United States and Canada, the Intermountain Indian Boarding School has a fairly tame reputation; however, many public controversies and struggles throughout the school’s history leave its legacy complex and unresolved.
Yearbooks from Intermountain paint student experiences in a positive, culturally enriching light. Pages are rife with statements such as “at Intermountain, students retain their proud heritage and also find delight in new events - blending both elements into a rich and an unforgettable year.” Interviews with students ring with similar sentiments such as: “I really enjoyed the situation because it brought me away from a home where we had to haul water and no running water and all that stuff and everything was furnished.”
Nevertheless, even though the student body projected love for their school, some instances in the school’s history indicate an alternative view. In early 1972, a student from Intermountain committed suicide while being held in Brigham City Jail. This was the second suicide of an Intermountain student, the first of which occurred four years previous in November 1968. Regarding the second suicide, Intermountain officials released a statement stating that they had “nothing to hide.” Additionally, between these two suicides, in April 1971, a group of students filed a lawsuit against the school and its administrators on the grounds of segregation, discrimination, and the use of tranquilizers, among other things. Ultimately the court ruled in favor of the school.
When discussions of the school's closing began, students made public demonstrations against imminent closure by running on foot for over 20 miles. Without success, Intermountain Indian Boarding school closed in 1984, to the devastation of some. The legacy of the school remains complicated as its history combines tragedy and opposition in the midst of tolerance and benevolence.