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American Indian Boarding Schools
April 2021


"What does the research say about the intergenerational educational effects of American Indian boarding schools on Native American students?"

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Bougie, E., & Senécal, S. (2010). Registered Indian children’s school success and intergenerational effects of residential schooling in Canada. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 1(1). Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Using the 2006 Aboriginal Peoples Survey, this study investigates factors associated with school success (as perceived by parents) among off-reserve Registered Indian children aged 6 to 14 in Canada. Holding other factors constant, Registered Indian children were more likely to be doing well at school if they were living in households with high income, were living in adequately maintained dwellings, or spoke an Aboriginal language at home. Boys and older children, on the other hand, were less likely to be doing well at school, as were children who were living in larger households, experienced food insecurity, or had parents who attended residential school. Mediation analyses revealed that the negative intergenerational effect of parental residential schooling on children’s school success was partially attributable to household characteristics or economic status. Indeed, former residential school attendees were found to be more likely to live in households with a lower income, live in larger households, and report that their family had experienced food insecurity. These characteristics were, in turn, found to be negatively associated with children’s school success."

Colmant, S., Schultz, L., Robbins, R., Ciali, P., Dorton, J., & Rivera-Colmant, Y. (2004). Constructing meaning to the Indian boarding school experience. Journal of American Indian Education, 22-40. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This study investigated the complex meaning of the Indian boarding school experience. Using grounded theory methodology, a multi-member research team conducted and analyzed interviews and observations with 30 alumni of various Indian boarding schools, and 16 students and seven staff in one Indian boarding school currently operating in Oklahoma. Five main factors emerged that appear central to constructing meaning to the Indian boarding school experience. These factors were: (1) background context, (2) perception of reasons for attending, (3) severity, (4) coping during experience, and (5) coping after experience. Explanations and excerpts for the data are provided to illustrate each of the factors. Potential use of these factors to practitioners working with survivors of Indian boarding school abuses in counseling and therapy is discussed."

Evans-Campbell, T. (2008). Historical trauma in American Indian/Native Alaska communities: A multilevel framework for exploring impacts on individuals, families, and communities. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23(3), 316-338. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Over multiple generations, American Indian communities have endured a succession of traumatic events that have enduring consequences for community members. This article presents a multilevel framework for exploring the impact of historically traumatic events on individuals, families, and communities. The critical connection between historically traumatic events and contemporary stressors is also discussed at length."

Feir, D. L. (2016). The intergenerational effects of residential schools on children's educational experiences in Ontario and Canada's western provinces. International Indigenous Policy Journal, 7(3) 1-44. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The intergenerational effects of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools have been widely discussed, but limited empirical work exists. I use the confidential wave of the 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey of Children and Youth (APSCY) to study the association between mothers’ residential school attendance and their children’s educational outcomes and experiences in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Holding a number of factors constant, I demonstrate that children whose mothers attended residential school are more likely to be suspended or expelled and have worse school experiences on average than children whose mothers did not. Children are also more likely to live off reserve and less likely to speak an Aboriginal language if their mothers attended a residential school. I also examine some contextual factors that may influence the relationship between mothers’ residential school attendance and their children’s educational outcomes. These findings suggest that dealing with the intergenerational legacy of residential schools is necessary for improving the educational outcomes of today’s Aboriginal youth."

Fish, J., & Syed, M. (2018). Native Americans in higher education: An ecological systems perspective. Journal of College Student Development, 59(4), 387-403. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"As a result of the U.S. government's involvement in Native American education, the current experiences of Native American college students are characterized by educational disparities. Higher education professionals are in an ideal position to meet the needs and interests of Native American students; however, most of the literature concerning this population takes a deficit approach. We offer a reconceptualization of Bronfenbrenner's ecological systems model as an alternative framework for the experiences of Native American college students. In privileging historical and cultural factors, this reconceptualization demonstrates how transforming educational institutions could influence the experiences of Native American college students."

Gaywsh, R., & Mordoch, E. (2018). Situating intergenerational trauma in the educational journey. in education, 24(2), 3-23.

From the Abstract:
"The impact of trauma on learning in post-secondary institutions is largely ignored. However, recent studies on how Aboriginal people experience mental health issues are bringing attention to Aboriginal students’ experiences of intergenerational trauma (IGT). IGT occurs when the maladaptive effects of an original trauma experience, such as historic trauma inclusive of Indian Residential Schools (IRS), results in unhealthy effects on the first generation being passed down to the next generation or multiple generations. Given the lengthy history of collective historic trauma experienced by Aboriginal people, it is reasonable to expect that Aboriginal students’ learning is affected by IGT. As post-secondary educators, we engaged a limited study to further our knowledge of the impact of IGT on Aboriginal students. We were puzzled by Aboriginal students' attrition within university programs--students we believed who were more than capable of success. We chose to explore this issue from the perspective of trauma-informed education principles (Mordoch & Gaywish, 2011). Building on past work, this qualitative study explores how IGT affects the educational journeys of Aboriginal students. A conceptual framework based on an Anishinabe teaching of Four Lodges (directional)--Talking, Planning, Teaching, and Healing--guided our research. The researchers formulated questions for each Lodge to frame our research on how IGT is understood by students enrolled in select programs for mature Indigenous students. We asked about the effects of IGT in the classroom and the resultant problems students face in their educational journey. Sixteen Indigenous students, 10 instructors, and nine administrators employed in Aboriginal focus or access programs for at least three years participated in semi-structured interview conversations. Findings reflect their perceptions of the interplay between IGT and educational experiences and potential strategies to redress resultant issues."

Gregg, M. T. (2017). The long-term effects of American Indian boarding schools. SSRN. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This paper explores some long-standing questions of the legacy of American Indian boarding schools by comparing contemporary Indian reservations that experienced differing impacts in the past from boarding schools. Combining recent reservation-level census data and school enrollment data from 1911 to 1932, I find that reservations that sent a larger share of students to off-reservation boarding schools have higher high school graduation rates, higher per capita income, lower poverty rates, a greater proportion of exclusively English speakers, and smaller family sizes. These results are supported when distance to the nearest off-reservation boarding school that subsequently closed is used as an instrument for the proportion of past boarding school students. I conclude with a discussion of the possible reasons for this link."

Hunt, B. D., Locklear, L., Bullard, C., & Pacheco, C. (2020). "Do you live in a teepee? Do you have running water?": The harrowing experiences of American Indians in North Carolina’s urban K-12 schools. The Urban Review, 1-19. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"American governmental policy toward Native American people and nations has long taken an exterminatory approach. The relocation era sought to remove American Indian people from reservations and tribal communities into cities to assimilate them into dominant society. The cities were marketed as beacons of economic and academic opportunity, but their realities bore different fruit including unemployment, poor living conditions, and segregated and low-performing schools. Though schools are often depicted as mechanisms of social and economic mobility, for Native children, the continued extermination of their histories, languages, cultures continue to be obstacles to their success. These obstacles are particularly harmful for Natives living in urban areas away from their tribal communities. This study of nine American Indian people from various tribes in North Carolina gathers their stories of trauma and triumph as they navigated urban public K-12 schools. Several themes emerged including the racism endured in school, lack of American Indian representation in curriculum, teachers, and peers, being tokenized as the only American Indian student, and stories of resistance and resilience despite anti-Indian circumstances."

Martinez, D. (2014). School culture and American Indian educational outcomes. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 199-205. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"American Indians have the lowest educational attainment rates of any group in the United States. Researchers have attributed this educational disparity gap that American Indians experience to the lack of cultural relevance in mainstream educational settings. American Indian students perceive a cultural bias against them in classroom curriculum as well as pedagogical practices. While some states have passed legislation to support teaching about American Indians, no funding to support culturally relevant curriculum changes or teacher training accompany these measures. Successful American Indian college students learn how to develop a strong academic identity, while retaining strong cultural ties. A continuing educational gap in access to higher education, in a knowledge-based economy affects the socio-economic status of families and tribes. Incorporating tribal values into mainstream schools would not only educational connections for American Indian students, but can also enhance the learning environment for all students."

Reed, T. (2021). Intergenerational trauma and other unique challenges as barriers to Native American educational success. Indigenous Research of Land, Self, and Spirit, 180-199. Full text available at

From the Abstract:
"This chapter examines unique challenges in the way of Native American educational success as well as solutions to overcoming. The chapter addresses why intergenerational trauma matters, the impacts of public policy on Native American people such as the Native American Languages Act of 1990, and the importance of Native American people being connected to the land, protecting traditions, language, and their ancestors. The purpose of this literature review is to shed light on Native American educational barriers and to critique existing literature. Areas analyzed include the trend of low rates of educational attainment among Native Americans, the history of abuse towards Indigenous people and other minorities, the impact on individuals, and solutions for the future. There is a need for Native American students to stay connected to cultural tradition, cultural relevancy in education, role models for Native American people, and an importance of Native American students staying connected to family."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: ("Indian boarding schools OR "boarding schools"), (Intergenerational OR children OR grandchildren), Student*, ("Educational effect*" OR outcomes OR achievement), ("American Indian" OR "Native American")

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.