Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Jerry White


A substantial body of literature about Indigenous experiences regarding the boarding school and residential school systems in the US and Canada, respectively, does exist. Both federal governments’ intentions were to Christianize, assimilate, and “civilize” students who attended these schools. Most Indigenous educational research is centered in either an American or Canadian context, and the colonial education of Indigenous peoples is rarely discussed as a collective experience. This colonial education occurred in tandem, in both countries, and its legacy severely impacted Indigenous students by separating them from their families and communities and stripping them of their Indigenous identities and lifeways. Furthermore, there have been few researchers who have examined the longtime and generational impacts of these institutions on the lives of students’ descendants. This study is two-fold. First, it examines and compares Indigenous education in Canada and the United States. Second, it focuses on Indigenous university students’ (RS Survivors’ descendants) perspectives of this legacy, and the ongoing effects which weaves together the American and Canadian RS history.

Indigenous university students’ personal stories were analyzed using interviews, group discussions, and individual photovoice projects. The generational impacts of colonial education have sometimes been described as soul wounds that have led to persistent scars often referred to as historical unresolved grief and/or intergenerational trauma. This study examined historical unresolved grief and intergenerational trauma that Indigenous university students experienced during their academic journeys. The history of colonial education on Indigenous peoples is a lived experience and comes to life when Indigenous students learn or re-learn more historical details during their academic studies. I developed colliding heartwork, a research framework, that is based upon interviews and other findings that helps to facilitate the emotional and mental work needed to learn, discuss, heal, and support Indigenous students regarding the continuing aftermath of boarding and residential schools.

Summary for Lay Audience

This dissertation examined Indigenous university students’ perspectives of the ongoing impacts from the residential school system on their lives. The terms boarding school and residential school refers to a colonial school system set up by both the American and Canadian governments, respectively, to educate Indigenous children and indoctrinate them into Euro-American, Euro-Canadian, and Christian ways of living so they could be assimilated into the mainstream society. Indigenous families were disrupted for generations because of this colonial education system, which contributed to the loss of culture, language, and Indigenous lifeways. Indigenous university students reflected upon these disruptions using photography, interviews, and group discussions. I analyzed Indigenous students’ photographs, interviews, and discussions regarding their perspectives of the lingering impacts from this education system. The ability to share one’s perspective can be emotional because residential schools are a felt and living history for many Indigenous peoples. Based on this study’s findings, I developed a research framework called colliding heartwork. Colliding heartwork helps to examine the emotions and feelings associated with the residential school system to support Indigenous students who are processing the lingering effects. I found that when Indigenous university students are examining or re-learning about residential schools it is crucial to understand the emotional work needed to heal and process this history that altered Indigenous communities. Colliding heartwork provides a framework to support Indigenous students to discuss residential schools.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.