Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Cody S. Hollist

Date of this Version

Winter 12-3-2020

Document Type



Olson, M.D. (2020). A qualitative exploration of attachment through the context of Indian Boarding Schools. (Publication No. 28258828) [Doctoral Dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln]. Proquest Dissertations & Theses.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Human Sciences (Global Family Health and Wellbeing & Ethnic Studies), Under the Supervision of Professor Cody S. Hollist, LIMHP. Lincoln, Nebraska: November 2020

Copyright © 2020 Melissa D. Olson (Zephier)


This is a qualitative phenomenological exploration looking at how Indian boarding schools impacted Indigenous families and indicators of how their attachment was affected. Thirty-one semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 individuals who attended Indian boarding schools and 13 descendants of those who attended these schools. The interviews were conducted on a Northern Plains reservation where approval was obtained from that tribal college and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Results indicate knowledge sharers in both groups, individuals who attended boarding schools and those who descended from these individuals experienced critical impacts to their ability to form intergenerational attachments with subsequent generations due to the possibly negative caregiving they received in the boarding schools. Survivors indicated issues of trauma they experienced at the boarding schools through abuse, family separation, abandonment and extreme loneliness. These traumatic processes then implicated difficulty in forming a strong and safe base for an attachment to form with others in their lives. The individuals who went to boarding schools had difficulty in how they survived their difficult times through being independent and focusing on protecting themselves and this often-involved emotional suppression. Survivors taught their descendants that emotion was not important and independent survival was the priority. Furthermore, knowledge sharers indicated that overwhelmingly, while in survival mode, those emotions seemed less important. In suppressing the negative emotions, many knowledge sharers engaged in harmful coping methods like substances and impulsive behavior. Conversely, knowledge sharers were able to hold onto their culture and through attachments with grandparents, they were able to learn their language and participate in ceremonies. These discoveries emphasize the need for further research on attachment indicators like building trust, encouraging emotional regulation, and teaching positive coping methods with Indigenous families impacted by Indian boarding schools.

Advisor: Cody S. Hollist, Ph.D., LIMHP