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History of the Chilocco Indian Agricultural School

Opened in 1884, Chilocco Indian School was one of the largest federally-funded boarding schools for Native American youth in the country. Located twenty miles north of Ponca City, Oklahoma, the school offered a half academic / half vocational curriculum, focused on assimilating Native students into the dominant culture. Like most boarding schools, Chilocco went through different phases of development, reflecting changes in the federal policy towards Native Americans. These changes were often prompted by the efforts of Native educators, community workers and activists, and shifting attitudes within the larger society. Throughout these shifts, however, the school’s status as a National Guard center as well as boarding school made it unique.

 A federal retreat from funding such schools, and rising Native enrollment in public schools, ushered in the closing of Chilocco in 1980. By the time it ceased operation, it had seen close to 18,000 students and had awarded more than 5,500 high school diplomas during its near-centennial history. Today, the school’s land is owned in trust by the Kaw, Ponca, Otoe-Missouria, Pawnee, and Cherokee Nations. While remaining Chilocco alumni do not always agree on the school’s long-term legacy, most share memories of friendships and often marriages that arose from attending the school. Many consider themselves part of a Chilocco family, working to share the school’s history, good and bad, and to celebrate the accomplishments of its students.


For more detailed information see the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture article on Chilocco

The 1994 publication by Dr. K. Tsianina Lomawaima, They Called it Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

or visit the Chilocco National Alumni Association website