Tuba City Boarding School

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Tuba City Boarding School
Opened 1898
Current Status Preserved
Building Style Cottage Plan
Location Tuba City, Navajo County, AZ
Alternate Names
  • Blue Canyon School


Tuba City Boarding School was established in 1898 under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) for the education of Native American children in Northern Arizona. The first school was located in Blue Canyon, 25 miles southeast of Tuba City and was known as the Blue Canyon School. The BIA paid Mormon missionaries to operate and teach the school. Later, the school was moved to Moenave, AZ just four miles west of Tuba City.

Finally in 1901, the school relocated to its present location in Tuba City, AZ. The original buildings after 1901 (many of which still stand) were made of sandstone blocks that were quarried out of nearby Moenkopi Wash by Navajo and Hopi stone masons. The school was designed to be self-sufficient with its own bakery, farm, and laundry.

The original school could handle 75 students and followed the directive of those days of trying to assimilate the children into main stream anglos society by forcing them to wear uniforms and punishing them for speaking their own language or taking part in traditional religious ceremonies. Students spent a half day in lessons and a half-day doing labor on the farm or workshops.

From its beginning up until the 1940s, the school was operated by the Department of the Army. Then in the 1950s the school came under the direction of the Department of the Interior. About that time; "“Tuba City Boarding School. That was the worse I went to,” says Roy Smith, a Navajo born in 1950 who went to several boarding schools beginning in 1959. “If you get caught talking Navajo to another student, your name is on the list. And the way they used to do it was they'd get a bar of soap, and they'd shave it off with the pocketknife, and then they mix it with water. Then that's what you use to rinse your mouth. Don't ever use another word of Navajo.”