American Indian boarding schools were compulsory and parental noncompliance penalized by withholding food rations. The intent of boarding schools was the assimilation and eradication of American Indian identity including but not limited to language, spirituality, dress, food, and mannerisms. Corporal punishment enforced failure to follow school rules, for speaking tribal languages, and practicing cultural spiritually. Reports detail serious health concerns including rampant disease, poor sanitation and living conditions, and lack of nutrition. Research demonstrates early life experiences affect individuals their entire lives. The deleterious effects of repeated stress in childhood leads to allostatic load in adulthood. The goal of this project is to determine whether allostatic load is worse in American Indians who attended boarding school compared to those who did not attend. For this cross-sectional study, 220 American Indians will be recruited, half boarding school attenders and half non-attenders. The American Indian Chronic Disease Disparities model guides the inclusion of control variables used in this study which will be collected through survey. Multiple methods of recruitment will occur: flyers, newsletters/newspapers, radio announcements, and word of mouth. Study participants will be American Indian, at least 52 years of age, and either attended boarding school or did not. Participants must be able to collect urine samples on filter paper over one day which will be used to examine biomarkers of allostatic load. Participants must not be taking hormones, DHEA, steroids, or have an adrenal dysfunction or disorder, or currently have or have had adrenal caner or adrenal removal as these will confound biomarker readings.
The Specific Aims are as follows:
Specific Aim 1 : Determine the relationship between boarding school attendance and each of the following control variables: ACEs, historical trauma, nutrition, mental health, and resilience. Hypothesis: Compared to non-attenders, boarding school attenders will have worse ACEs, historical trauma and nutrition scores, and be more likely to have mental health conditions, and be less resilient.
Specific Aim 2 : Test whether boarding school attenders have more chronic stress (measured by AL) than non-attenders. Hypothesis: Boarding school attenders will have higher (worse) chronic stress scores as measured by AL than American Indian non-attenders. The proposed project promises to advance our understanding of how boarding school attendance impacts chronic stress in American Indians.

Public Health Relevance

American Indians that attended boarding school experienced repeated stress as a result of their attendance. Repeated stress in childhood increases allostatic load in adulthood. This study tests whether allostatic load (chronic stress) is related to American Indian boarding school attendance.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
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University of North Dakota
Grand Forks
United States
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