Intermountain Indian School






(article and photos' by Jami Akers)


I’ve been coming out to the Intermountain Indian School for 10 years now, ever since I moved to Utah.  I come to look, to photograph, to wonder and to think.  How many languages filled these empty halls when the school was open?  Was one allowed to speak his/her native language or did one have to speak English?


Well in my research I found that in the beginning the common language was Navajo for this was a school built for the Navajo children with the hopes of helping them to integrate into the world of Anglos.  They were taught skills, reading, writing, math, art and English.  Unfortunately, they were also separated from family and friends and as a result there was much loneliness and feeling of alienation.  Later on the school opened up to all tribes, with once again the hope of Anglicizing the American Indian.  Those children that went here are my age now, all grown up and teaching their children who now go to the schools that are either on the reservations or close by.


Some of the teachers were Native American but the majority were Anglo with no knowledge of the type of home life these students had come from.  The teachers were armed with the only thing they knew and that was to teach these children their ways, their beliefs.  The major injustice here was the lack of knowledge of the children’s beliefs and ways.  The ways of their people.  Pride is a small thing one would think but the pride of a child can make or break the man.


These were well-meaning adults who lacked specific cultural information is ill-advised to fall back on his or her own experience, or—worse—his or her own ideas of Navajo experiences, in dealing with these students. The differences between Navajo culture and home environment and that of even a depressed rural section of the United States must be seen and experienced to be believed.  For what may seem to be run down or depressed to us was a natural way of order to the Navajo.  The didn't need grass to play on, they didn't need individual rooms to sleep in, they didn't need shoes in the summer, they saw no need for several coats when one would do.  The saw no need for the excesses that plague the Anglos world, a Navajo's main duty was to walk in beauty and societies trappings weren’t needed to do that.  But it is not the Navajo's way to point this out and so the teachers were in some cases as alienate as the children in their attempts to communicate.  Below is a information sheet that was used for the children.  It was usually administrated to children in the 4th grade and above, for clarity a translator was used for children 4th grade and below.







Background Information Sheet For Navaho Students

Date _________

To the Student:

Some of you have been here before. Some of you are new students. These questions have been written down so that we can find out some things about yourself, your home, and your family. The more things we know about you and your life on the Reservation, the quicker we will be able to get to know you, and the better we will be able to help you with your school and dormitory life. Follow the directions of your teacher carefully. Read each question all the way through. Ask questions if you do not understand what you are to do. Answer each question carefully. Write neatly so we will have no trouble reading your answers.

Trading Post

A. 1. My full name is

2. My birth date is I am _________________ years old now.

(Month Day Year)

3. The name of the place I was born is

(Trading Post Town State)

4. The name of the place I live now is

(Trading Post Town State)

5. My census number is

B I have been to school before, in these places.

Kind of School

(Day, Trailer, Boarding,

Year Name of School Community, Public, Mission) Grade

Last year

The year before

The year before

The year before

The year before

The year before

The year before

The year before

C 1. My father's name .  Is your father alive?

2. My father's census number is

3. My mother's name .  Is your mother alive?

4. My mother's census number is

5. My mother's name before she was married was

6. I have these brothers and sisters.


In what school, or Grade, if Lives at home Married

Name Age Not in school in school or Where (Yes-No)


In what school, or Grade, if Lives at home Married

Name Age Not in school in school or Where (Yes-No)


1. Did your father go to school? What was the last grade he finished?


2. Where did he go to school?

3. Did your mother go to school? What was the last grade she finished?


4. Where did she go to school?

5. Does your father speak and understand English?

(a little, a lot, not at all)

6. Does your mother speak and understand English?

(a little, a lot, not at all)

7. Is your father at home most of the year?


8. If he is not at home, where is he?

9. Is your mother at home most of the year?


10. If she is not at home, where is she?

11. Does your father have a job for which he gets paid money (such as working at a school, on the roads, at the trading post, in the mines, in town, in another state)?


12. If he does, what kind of work does he do?

13. Where does he work?

14. If he does not have a job, what work does he do at home?

15. Does your mother have a job away from home?


16. If she does, what kind of work does she do?

17. Where does she work?

18. If she does not work away from home, what kind of work does she do at home?

19. Does your mother weave rugs? Does your father make jewelry?

(Yes-No) (Yes-No)

F 1. Which of these people do you live with in the summer time? (Circle the right answers.)

Mother Father Grandmother Grandfather Uncle Aunt Brother Sister

Some one else (Who? --------------------------- )

2. What kind of house does your family live in? (Circle the right answer.)

A hogan with 8 sides A house made of logs

A house made of flat boards A house made of bricks

A house made of stones A tarpaper house

A tent Some other kind (What kind )

3. How many people besides you sleep in this house in the summer?

4. Are there any other homes right next to yours?

5. If there are, who lives in them?

6. How many miles is your house from the trading post?

7. How long does it take to get from your house to the trading post in a pick-up truck?

8. Does your family have a car? or a truck?

G. 1. Did you work at home last summer?


2. If you did, what kind of work did you do?

3. If you did not, where did you work?

4. If you worked away from home, what kind of work did you do?

5. Did you earn any money last summer?


6. How much money did you earn?

7. What did you spend your money for?

8. What kind of work did you do to earn this money?

H 1. Did you make any trips last summer?


2. If you did, where did you go?

To visit friends or relatives?


To Squaw Dances? How many?


To rodeos? How many?


To the Gallup Ceremonial?


To the Flagstaff Pow-wow?


Somewhere else? Where?


2. What did you do for fun last summer?

3. Did you read any books last summer? How many?


4. Did you read any magazines? Which ones?


5. Did you read any newspapers? Which ones?


6. Does your family get a check each month For how much money?


7. Where does the check come from?

8. What subjects do you like best in school?

9. What subjects do you not like in school?

10. My family has sheep horses, and cows.

(Number) (Number) (Number)


This questionnaire was used in the following schools:

*Chinle Boarding School, Lukachukai Boarding School, Pinon Boarding School, Smoke Signal Day School, Whippoorwill Trailer School, Intermountain Indian School, Aztec Dormitory, Chinle Public School.



Now as you read this, stop and think. Would you answer these questions to enroll in school today?  Would you submit your child to this questionnaire?  No where does it take into consideration that these are First Nation People, they are not foreigners on foreign soil and yet they are treated as such.

The school is run down now, a futile attempt at revamping some of the buildings have taken place.  But it still looks like the projects.  The scenery is still pretty what with the mountains and a local golf course as a backdrop.  But the buildings are mainly husk - empty cold and forlorn. Why do I continue to come out here? -to listen to the echos  -...... !!



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