Highlights and Calls To Action – Tribal Boarding School Toolkit for Healing

Calls To Action

Research whose land you are on and learn about the history of the AI/AN people who live there. Native-Land.ca is a useful tool for researching these matters.

  • Do not wear other people’s traditional clothing as a costume.
  • Hold your friends and family accountable when they use problematic language about AI/ANs.
  • Be an ally: Learn with humility, center the impacted, step up or stand back when asked to do so.
  • Learn about the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation:
    • Do: Buy art, textiles, jewelry, music made by AI/AN people
    • Do: Attend public events lead by AI/AN people
    • Don’t: Buy “Native style” art, jewelry, textiles made by non-Natives
    • Don’t: Attend traditional AI/AN ceremonies lead by non-Natives (or facilitate them)

Avoid using stereotypes or forcing AI/AN people to endure microaggressions. Common examples of these include:

  • But you don’t look Indian?
  • How much Indian are you?
  • What are you?
  • You’re really well spoken.
  • Let’s have a powwow (when referring to a meeting, discussion, etc.)
  • Do you live in a tepee?
  • I need to find my tribe (when referring to finding your community, or like-minded people).

Center culture on the pathway to health. This approach recognizes tribal sovereignty and self-determination. “Indigenous culture as treatment addresses not only physical and mental health disparities but also accounts for structural issues of inequality and policy injustices, medical discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion” (BlackDeer, 2023).

To support children and families in regaining their cultural identity, remind them there is more than one way to begin their journey. They can start connecting through public events like ceremonies, powwows, traditional art, literature, film, social media, or through AI/AN service providers.

Parents with family histories disrupted by the boarding schools or the child-welfare system benefit from parent education that models culturally relevant parenting strategies promoting family and community well-being.

Trauma responses vary from person to person. Creating a safe space for open communication about potential activators is crucial to avoid re-experiencing trauma. Possible accommodations can include, but are not limited to, actions such as warning participants before anticipated loud noises, asking for permission to physically touch someone, and using calm voices.

Nothing About Us Without Us. Non-Native educators and administrators must include AI/AN students, families, and tribal communities in the development of their culturally relevant programs and curricula. This is a crucial step in ensuring the material is accurate, culturally sensitive, and without stereotypes or microaggressions that might retraumatize AI/AN students.

  • Advocate for appropriate support and services and make sure students receive them.
  • Create a safe and supportive classroom environment that allows students to feel comfortable and safe while learning.
  • Build a solid relationship with their students and their families.

Protective factors for AI/AN youth include personal wellness, positive self- image, self-efficacy, family and non-familial connectedness, positive opportunities, positive social normal, and cultural connectedness.

Use traditional practices in recovery and ongoing therapies with your clients. Traditional drumming has been used for AI/AN people with substance use disorders and is a promising healing activity when coupled with traditional SUD therapies (Dickerson et al., 2012).

Community leaders should engage with how the Indian boarding schools touch almost every aspect of modern life for AI/AN people. These actions can include sending out newsletters, passing resolutions to honor victims and survivors, hosting community events and observances, and creating spaces for healing.


It is important to note that children’s experiences at Indian boarding schools were diverse and complicated. Get to know your clients, ask questions, and listen to their perspectives. Be informed about the history of AI/AN assimilation policy, be ready to learn from each person’s lived experience and seek supports when necessary. If you are interested in tracing your ancestors’ experience at Indian boading schools, The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition will be launching an online platform to help. In the meantime, please see their document “Locating Relatives at U.S. Indian Federal Boarding Schools Research Pathfinder.”

Please take a moment to make sure this is the right time to go down this path, as this work can activate a secondary trauma response. Also keep in mind that not every survivor defines their boarding school experience as adverse—AI/AN people may be at various stages of reconciliation with this experience, and it is important to respect their individual healing processes.

“Without griefwork—without a voice—trauma is passed from one generation to the next.” –Jane Middleton-Moz, MSCP

“Without griefwork—without a voice—trauma is passed from one generation to the next.” –Jane Middleton-Moz, MSCP