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A United States School for Indians in Phoenix, Arizona


If you've driven much in Phoenix, you've probably been on a road called Indian School. And if you wondered if there was an Indian School, yes, there was. It was there from 1891 until 1990, on Indian School Road between Central Avenue and 3rd Street.

As a history adventurer, normally I'm pretty casual about misunderstandings about the history of Phoenix. I try to grin and bear it, accept that information gets garbled, things get confused. But the story of this school to the history of Phoenix, Arizona and the Southwest is so important that makes me sad to hear so many people misunderstand. I've been learning and writing about this for years, and the truth is amazing. It's all about an alliance. Walk with me.

We have to time-travel back to 1863, when the Five Tribes Treaty of Peace was signed. If you've been to the celebration, which has been held at the Gila River Indian Community every year for over 150 years, you know about this. If not, you have to understand that it was an alliance with the United States Military and these five tribes: the Pima (Akimel O’odham), Maricopa (Pee Posh), Yuma, Hualapai, and Chemehuevi people. If you know the history, you know that it's no exaggeration to say that without this alliance, there never would have been Phoenix. And the alliance still stands.

In 1891 the Federal Government established a school specifically for Indians. And yes, it was mandatory, and yes, the students lived right there on the campus. It was a typical high school in many ways, but the emphasis was on what we would call nowadays vo-tech. And there was also military training. I'm sure that it shocked people to see Indians with rifles and guns, marching in military formation, as I'm sure it shocked people to see Black people do that. The flag that flew at the United States Indian School was red, white and blue, and that's all that mattered.

If you've never heard of the history of the United States Indian School at Phoenix, and the legacy of the Five Tribes Treaty of Peace, I'm sorry. But it's not too late to learn, and that's what I'm doing. Last year I attended the Treaty of Peace celebration, and took another step on my journey of understanding.

Thank you for walking with me.

Image at the top of this post: the United States Indian School in 1896.

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