Residential Institutions

This page is designed to share educational resources about the history and lasting impacts of residential institutions and child removal as strategies for assimilation and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. It provides links to articles, films, books, and teaching materials that provide historical context and offer further resources. Many of these resources contain disturbing details about residential and boarding schools and removal of Native children from their homes that may be triggering for Indigenous families and individuals who continue to heal from the harm caused by these histories. Resources for self-care and trauma from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition can be found here, and also here. INHCC honors with gratitude and respect those who shared their stories in the resources below. We are committed to recognizing the atrocities committed against Native peoples by these systems and celebrating the survivance of all Indigenous people who have been—and continue to be—affected.

Historical Context

Pre-Boarding School Era

The relationship between “educational” institutions and assimilation/cultural genocide has long historical roots that predate the formal establishment of boarding schools in the United States. Through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, missionary schools were founded throughout New England to “civilize” and convert Indigenous students.

Image: “Founding of Dartmouth College,” from Reed Digital Collections

Boarding School Era

From the early 1800s into the mid-1900s, many thousands of Indigenous children were taken away from their communities and forced to attend boarding schools in the United States and Canada. At these institutions, also known as residential schools and also called assimilation camps by many Indigenous peoples, Indigenous students were  stripped of their cultural identities, punished for speaking their language, and abused physically, emotionally, mentally, and sexually. Many students passed away at these institutions, never returning to their families. Now, survivors and their descendants are still healing from the traumas wrought by this federal strategy for forced assimilation.

The Carlisle Industrial Indian School

The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1879 under the US government by General Richard Henry Pratt, whose motto was, famously and disturbingly, “Kill the Indian, save the Man.” Over the next 39 years, more than 10,000 Indigenous children from more than 140 tribes attended Carlisle. It served as a model for the Canadian residential school system.

Image: Progress report for Estelle Tahamont, an Abenaki girl who attended Carlisle Industrial Indian School. From the Digital Resource Center.

From the National American Boarding School Healing Coalition:

How Native students fought back against abuse and assimilation at US boarding schools — The Conversation, August 12 2021

Death by Civilization — The Atlantic, March 8 2019

Away From Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories — Online exhibit by the Heard Museum

Uncovering the Unspoken Traumas of Native American Boarding Schools — New Hampshire Public Radio, June 29 2021

History of Residential Schools in Canada:

Adoption, Foster Care, and Orphanages

Across time and space, the strategies used by colonial governments to achieve assimilation and cultural genocide have varied, but removal of Indigenous children from their homes and separation from their cultures remain a point of continuity. For decades, Indigenous children have been disproportionately separated from their families and communities through adoption, foster care, and placement in orphanages—a process which is ongoing today.

Films and teaching guides from the Upstander Project: Dawnland, Dear Georgina, and First Light (see “Films” and “Educational Tools” sections below)

This Land podcast by Crooked Media — Season 2 tracks “how the far right is using Native children to attack American Indian tribes and advance a conservative agenda.”

The work of Vernon Carter — a UNH professor who has published research on the removal of Native American and Alaskan Native children from their homes still occurring today.

Judge William Thorne on the History and Healing of American Indian Families — Podcast highlighting continuities across time in federal policies’ devastating impacts on Indigenous American children, families, and culture.

ICWA Personal Stories Video Project — Video series is a multi-part digital storytelling project that features Native families sharing their stories of family upheaval, perseverance, healing, and resilience in the face of threats to their well-being.History and Impacts of Child Removal — from Wabanaki REACH.

Educational Tools

Recommended curricula, lesson plans, and teaching tips for educators and parents.


List of 48 fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s books — curated by David A. Robertson, a Cree author based in Winnipeg

Children’s Books:


Dawnland — 86 minutes; comes with free teacher’s guide and viewer’s guide; follows the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Maine

Dear Georgina — 15 minutes; follows the story of a Passamaquoddy elder, who was removed from her home at age two by child protection services, as she connects with her past and her culture

First Light — 13 minutes; documents the practices used by the US government to remove Native children from their tribes, from the 1800s to today

Rhymes for Young Ghouls — 85 minutes; indie drama/horror film that tells the fictional story of a teenager’s plot for revenge

The Thick Dark Fog — 56 minutes; follows the healing journey of Walter Littlemoon, a Lakota boarding school survivor

Older Than America — 101 minutes; by Cree filmmaker Georgina Lightning; a suspense drama film that explores the devastating personal and cultural effects of boarding schools on the members of a Native family in Minnesota

Indian Horse — 100 minutes; film adaptation of 2012 novel by author Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe); follows the story of a young First Nations boy who survives the residential school system to become a star ice hockey player

We Were Children — 86 minutes; by the National Film Board of Canada; follows the stories of two children taken from their homes and brought to boarding schools

Holy Angels —  14 minutes; by the National Film Board of Canada

Canadian Shame: A History of Residential Schools (TEDx Talk) — 15 minutes

My Stolen Childhood, and a Life to Rebuild (TEDx Talk) — 15 minutes; Indigenous Australian woman shares her own experience being placed in an orphanage by authorities as a child

Crimes against children at residential school: The truth about St. Anne’s — 22 minutes

National Film Board of Canada: films related to residential schools

In the News

Canada settles with indigenous ‘Sixties Scoop’ victims — BBC, October 6 2017

Reflecting on the Maine-Wabanaki Child Welfare TRC Commission Five Years Later — Native News Online, November 5 2020

Remains of 215 children found buried at former B.C. residential school, First Nation says — CBC, May 27 2021

“We won’t forget about the children” — Indian Country Today, June 6 2021

Native Americans to Feds: Own Up to America’s Indian School History — VOA News, June 16 2021

The Remains of 10 Children at the Carlisle Indian Boarding School Are Returning Home — Native News Online, June 17 2021

Canada: 751 unmarked graves found at residential school — BBC, June 24 2021

U.S. boarding schools to be investigated — Indian Country Today, June 22 2021

Why Canada is reforming indigenous foster care — BBC, July 11 2021

Canada, US differ on boarding schools — Indian Country Today, July 18 2021

Churches reckon with traumatic legacy of boarding schools — Indian Country Today, July 25 2021

Calls to search for remains at former boarding schools — Indian Country Today, August 4 2021

Legal group backs review of US boarding schools — Indian Country Today, August 10 2021

Canada indigenous children’s compensation order upheld — BBC, September 29 2021