Experiential Therapies – Tribal Boarding School Toolkit for Healing

Experiential Therapies​

Digital storytelling is a powerful tool for communicating and processing complex emotions using digital technologies. It combines narrative storytelling by way of voiceover with photography, animation, film clips, text, and audio to create a three- to five-minute-long video. Not only can digital stories be used for telling personal narratives, but they can be used to explain concepts, historical events, or make an argument.

Much of the technology needed to create a digital story is already available on cell phones and computers. To make a digital story, you will need photos, a camera, a microphone, and video editing software. Some devices have video- and audio-editing software already installed, but there are free resources available online as well.

Using one of the prompts below, write a script of roughly 200–500 words. Once you have completed your script, gather or create some visual elements to help tell your story, as well as any audio you would like included, such as background music. You will record the script you wrote as your narration or voiceover using the internal microphone on your cell phone or computer. Once you have all your visual and audio assets gathered, begin to piece the material together for your digital story with the video-editing software.

Digital Storytelling Prompts:

  • For AI/AN readers:
    • What are the ways you see your ancestors’ or family members’ boarding school experience impacting you or your children?
    • What does healing look like for my family/clients/community?
  • For non-Native readers:
    • What does holding space for my clients or students look like?
    • When I show up for my clients in a good way, but I am not sure what to say or do, it feels like …


Examples of digital stories:


Further information on creating digital stories:

Poetry serves as a creative and therapeutic medium for individuals navigating grief and trauma. Through its unique ability to distill complex emotions into words and imagery, poetry offers a healing process that can be profoundly cathartic and transformational. Using the prompt below, write a poem, spoken word, or rap. Remember that poetry does not have to rhyme. Rather, focus on communicating your feelings through metaphor and meter/rhythm.

Poetry Prompts:

  • When I focus on the strengths of the people who experienced boarding schools and what they and their families have overcome, I …
  • If “healing” was a geological feature, what would it be?
  • What is the shape of trauma? Are its edges hard, soft, round, jagged? Does it change when you touch it? Does it change over time?

Dramatic storytelling as a model for trauma-informed care aligns with the principles of safety, trust, empowerment, and empathy. It provides a structured and therapeutic avenue for trauma survivors to share, process, and heal from their experiences while fostering a sense of community and understanding. When conducted by trauma-aware facilitators, dramatic storytelling can be a valuable tool in supporting individuals on their journey toward recovery and resilience.

Dramatic Storytelling Prompts:

  • If “fear” was an animal, what animal would it be? If “healing” was an animal, what animal would it be? How would healing interact with fear?
  • Recall a time when you were sad and what steps you took to resolve your sadness.
  • Who helped you in processing your emotions? What words or actions did they share with you?
  • Imagine a healing-centered classroom; how do the students and teacher feel and exist in this space?

Creating a visual representation by way of collaging, painting, or sketching is a powerful way to process complex emotions and foster healing through visualization. Creating a collage will require magazines and pictures, a posterboard, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick. Cut up the magazines and pictures and keep the images that resonate with you. Place the images on the posterboard and begin to glue them down. This is also a great exercise to use within the classroom with students of all age levels.

Collage Prompt:

  • A trauma-informed and healing-centered classroom looks like …
  • A trauma-informed and healing-centered community looks like …

Traditional music, singing, and drumming hold profound significance for AI/AN people as vessels for prayer, community and family connection practices, and healing tools when confronting trauma. These cultural practices serve several important purposes:

  • Cultural reconnection: Boarding schools aimed to erase cultures, languages, and traditions. Traditional music offers a means to reconnect with cultural roots, fostering a sense of identity and belonging that was forcibly stripped away.
  • Spiritual healing: These cultural practices often have deep spiritual significance. Drumming, for instance, is a practice used to communicate with the ancestors and the spirit world. Engaging in these activities can help individuals find inner peace and spiritual healing.
  • Community and support: Traditional music and drumming are communal activities, fostering a sense of unity and support among survivors and their communities. Coming together in song and dance can create a supportive environment for sharing experiences and healing collectively.
  • Emotional expression: Music and singing provide a means to express complex emotions that may be difficult to articulate otherwise. Music allows survivors and their descendants to release trauma in a safe and culturally relevant way.
  • Resilience and empowerment: Engaging in these practices can be an act of resilience and empowerment by reclaiming and practicing the traditions that were meant to be erased by forced assimilation. It demonstrates the survival of AI/AN cultures despite centuries of oppression and serves as a source of strength for individuals and communities.

If drumming or traditional music groups are not accessible, try integrating traditional music from your local communities into your classroom, office, or medical practice.

Traditional dancing can play a significant role in healing from intergenerational trauma. Interwoven with history, spirituality, and community, traditional dances offer a path toward reconnecting with one’s root and fostering emotional and psychological well-being. Traditional dancing serves as a powerful tool for healing in several ways:

  • Cultural reconnection: Participating in these dances helps individuals reconnect with their culture, providing a sense of identity and belonging.
  • Spiritual connection: Dancing allows participants to connect with their spirituality, offering a sense of purpose, inner peace, and a way to address the spiritual wounds inflicted by historical trauma.
  • Community support: Traditional dancing is a communal activity and fosters a support system where individuals can heal collectively, share their stories, and receive emotional support from one another.
  • Resilience building: Dancing requires discipline, commitment, and perseverance, and can serve a vital role for healing from trauma as practitioners build resilience and develop a positive self-image.


Is there an opportunity to integrate traditional dancing into your practice, office, or classroom? Are there community events or clubs in order for community members to connect with this integral part of AI/AN culture and community?

“The most powerful forms of healing are wrapped in ceremony.” – John Bird (Blackfoot) Substance Abuse & Suicide Prevention Facilitator. 

Ceremonies are not mere cultural practices; they serve as a crucial pathway toward healing, reconciliation, and restoration of identity and spirituality for AI/AN people. They help reconnect individuals with their culture, facilitate storytelling and spiritual connection, provide a supportive community, and promote emotional expression. Whether it is the sweat lodge ceremony, the powwow, or the potlatch, these practices reinforce the importance of cultural identity and serve as a powerful antidote to the erasure of the boarding school system. As community leaders and providers, you have a unique position to facilitate intergenerational connection and cultural knowledge sharing. Are ceremonies practiced in your community? Which ones, and who leads them? Do young people have access? Is there a community calendar that lists seasonal ceremonies? Work with your community to create these resources, and they can have powerful impacts.

Department of Health and Human Services USA
Indian Health Service - PHS - 1955
THRIVE at the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board
Kauffman and Associates Incorporated
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