Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

A Qualitative Study Exploring Attachment Through the Context of Indian Boarding Schools

Melissa D Olson (Zephier), University of Nebraska - Lincoln


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.

Subject Area

Native American studies|Individual & family studies|Social research|Educational psychology|Educational leadership|Mental health|Cultural anthropology|Organizational behavior

Recommended Citation

Olson (Zephier), Melissa D, "A Qualitative Study Exploring Attachment Through the Context of Indian Boarding Schools" (2020). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28258828.