The Grand Junction Indian School opened its doors in 1886, becoming the seventh school in the federal system of residential boarding schools for Indigenous youth outside reservations. Located in the mountain west, the school was established just four years after the city of Grand Junction was founded. The school's purpose was to provide both academic and industrial education to Indigenous students, with the goal of improving their livelihoods on and off the reservations. However, this education also had a darker purpose: to erase Indigenous culture, causing immense damage to the ability of Indigenous peoples to maintain their languages and customs. Tragically, many students who attended the Grand Junction Indian School never returned home.
They were buried in school cemeteries, never to see their families again. To further their education, students were sent on “field trips” to work in local industry. A 1909 inspection report sent to the Office of Indian Affairs revealed that the school's heating and plumbing systems were in urgent need of repair and that the school engineer lacked the necessary experience to perform the work. In addition, enrollment was initially limited to children and eleven students were sent to Rocky Ford to work under the supervision of Charles Dagenette (a member of the Peoria tribe). Dagenette was a former student of the well-known Carlisle boarding school and then supervisor of Indigenous employment in Colorado. The Grand Junction Indian School prohibited students from speaking Indigenous languages, ensuring that children were dressed in Western clothing, and required them to worship according to Christian tradition.
In 1921, after receiving permission from Congress to convert the dilapidated school into a nursing home, the state of Colorado rehabilitated the main buildings on the campus and opened the State School for Residences and Training for the Mentally Disabled. Today, organizations such as the University of Colorado Mesa, the Southern Ute Tribe and the Colorado Indian Affairs Commission are making efforts to find and preserve the cemetery and commemorate the experiences of Indigenous children at the Grand Junction Indian School.