Outside the Homeland: The Intermountain Indian School

Brigham City Museum of Art and History
Brigham City, UT

Outside the Homeland: The Intermountain Indian School at the Brigham City Museum of Art and History chronicles the more than 30 years the Intermountain Indian School was open in Brigham City, Utah. Museum staff and board sought to include more recent history in their current offerings in order to open the museum up to a larger segment of the population. With the creation of Outside the Homeland, the museum built a more robust, inclusive, and comprehensive permanent exhibition that speaks to a broad spectrum of Brigham City residents.

The Intermountain Indian School campus began as the Bushnell Military Hospital, built during World War II. When the war ended and the hospital closed, the buildings were converted into a school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The school was initially only for Navajo students, but after a series of problems, the school was opened to other tribes in an effort to save it. While earlier Indian schools were often mandatory and unpleasant experiences, students at Intermountain attended by choice. Parents chose to send their students to the school, and cultural activities were encouraged, not stifled. But not everything operated as 21st century ideals would have us hope, and there were negatives to the student experience there.

Outside the Homeland went beyond a museum exhibition alone, and encompassed many different components including a digital version of the exhibition on the museum’s website, oral histories and transcriptions that were made publicly available online, and public talks given by former students from the school. The project was designed both to increase the museum’s resources related to this sometimes contentious topic, as well as to increase public knowledge about the subject and the controversial issues it can spark.

The participation of former faculty, staff, and students of the school in the project was essential for the museum to better reveal unknown or misunderstood pieces of the school’s history. This project was a key component in presenting a topic that is significant to the City of Brigham and its diverse population. Outside the Homeland enabled the museum to provide their community with an in-depth look at the school while incorporating many viewpoints, including those that had previously been ignored.