There's an "I" on the mountain above Brigham City -- a reminder of a school that closed 28 years ago.
The Brigham City Museum-Gallery is offering more than a reminder of the Intermountain Indian School. The museum opens an exhibit on Thursday, May 10, with displays of historical photos, and old teaching supplies and artifacts saved from the school. A computer allows visitors to watch video footage and listen to the stories of students.
The U.S. government started boarding schools for American Indians in the 1870s, with the idea of teaching students to assimilate into the dominant society. By 1902, 25 off-reservation boarding schools were built, according to "Indian Country Diaries" on the PBS website.
Over the years, policy and goals have changed. Today, there are still boarding schools. Most are on reservations, in areas where homes are too far apart to make a daily bus ride feasible, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs website. Seven are off-reservation institutions like the old Intermountain Indian School.
The Intermountain Indian School opened in 1950, in Brigham City, in what had been Bushnell Hospital during World War II.
The first year, there were 500 students. In 1951, there were more.
"That's when we opened 11 girls' dormitories, and 16 boys' dormitories," said Carolina Lomaquahu of Brigham City, who was a dormitory attendant. "All of those dormitories had about 50 students on each floor, and two floors each."
In some ways, the school was like a small city. It had its own swimming pool, theater, bowling alley, skating rink, dry cleaners and more, most built originally for the veterans and prisoners of war staying at the military hospital.
When the government-run boarding school first opened, it was just for Navajo students.
"Some didn't speak very much English, so there were a lot of Navajo employees who served as interpreters for teachers," Lomaquahu said.
The name was changed to Intermountain Inter-Tribal School in 1974, when the school began accepting youth from tribes across the country.
"That first year, some tribes kind of didn't get along together, so that was an adjustment that had to be made," said Lomaquahu.
According to Utah State University's Digital Library, a riot broke out in 1975, and three police officers were injured.
"Once they got over that problem, then the program continued and that became a success," said Lomaquahu.
The school taught all of the regular courses, and more.
"There were different trades offered, like auto mechanics, printing and carpentry, welding, nursing ... child care, dental assistant and different kinds of vocational training," she said. "Teachers escorted the students at the end of the program, and took them to places where they found jobs for them, and stayed with them for two weeks."
The teachers made sure they found housing, and got started on the job.
For a host of reasons, including changes in federal policy on education for American Indians and dwindling enrollment, the school closed on May 17, 1984.
"It's just a travesty that the school closed," said Ellie Thompson of Ogden, who taught at Intermountain Indian School.
After the school closed, she taught at a similar school in a different state, but said the quality of education and programs wasn't as high as at Intermountain Indian School.
"Everything was just a class act," she said of the old school.
-- Becky Wright
WHAT: 'Outside the Homeland: The Intermountain Indian School'
WHEN: Opening Thursday, May 10. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 1-5 p.m. Saturdays, through June 28.
WHERE: Brigham City Museum-Gallery, 24 N. 300 West
ADMISSION: Free, 435-226-1439