Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories

Beginning in the 1870s, the US government attempted to educate and assimilate American Indians into “civilized” society by placing children—of all ages, from thousands of homes and hundreds of diverse tribes—in distant, residential boarding schools. Many were forcibly taken from their families and communities and stripped of all signs of “Indianness,” even forbidden to speak their own language amongst themselves. Up until the 1930s, students were trained for domestic work and trade in a highly regimented environment. Many children went years without familial contact, and these events had a lasting, generational impact.

Native Americans responded to the often tragic boarding school experience in complex and nuanced ways. Stories of student resistance, accommodation, creative resolve, devoted participation, escape, and faith in one’s self and heritage speak individually across eras. Some families, facing increasingly scarce resources due to land dispossession and a diminishing way of life at home, sent their children to boarding schools as a refuge from these realities. In the variety of reactions, Ojibwe historian Brenda Childs finds that the “boarding school experience was carried out in public, but had an intensely private dimension.”

Unintended outcomes, such as a sense of “Pan Indianism” and support networks, grew and flourished on campuses, and advocates demanded reform. Boarding schools were designed to remake American Indians but it was American Indians who changed the schools. After graduation, some students became involved in tribal political office or the formation of civil rights and Native sovereignty organizations. The handful of federal boarding schools remaining today embrace Indigenous heritage, languages, traditions, and culture.

This exhibition explores off-reservation boarding schools in its kaleidoscope of voices. Visitors will explore compelling photographs, artwork, interviews, interactive timelines, and immersive environments, including classroom and dormitory settings. Objects such as a period barber chair and a young Seminole girl’s skirt, as well as reproduction elements poignantly illuminate first-person accounts. Stories of tragedy and familial love and friendships intersect. Experiences of gaining things useful and beautiful out of education, despite a formidable, fifty-year agenda that mostly maligned Native American capabilities, call us closer; each trial, each turning of power seeded in human survival, strengthening Indigenous identity.

This exhibition was adapted from the permanent exhibition Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, organized by The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Both the original exhibit and this touring version were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Tour Schedule

Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories is touring from September 2020 through April 2025. Dates are subject to change; please contact us for current availability.
Contact: or (800) 473-3872, ext. 208

  • September 1–October 20, 2020 Mid-America All-Indian Center
    Wichita, KS
  • January 28–March 16, 2021 Irving Archives and Museum
    Irving, TX
  • April 6–May 25, 2021 Clatsop County Historical Society
    Astoria, OR
  • June 16–August 11, 2021 Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art
    Scranton, PA
  • September 1–October 20, 2021 Dennos Museum Center
    Traverse City, MI
  • November 10, 2021–January 7, 2022 Tomaquag Museum
    Exeter, RI
  • January 28–March 16, 2022 James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
    St. Petersburg, FL
  • April 6–May 25, 2022 Goodhue County Historical Society
    Red Wing, MN
  • June 16–August 11, 2022 Manitowoc Public Library
    Manitowoc, WI
  • September 1–October 20, 2022 Mountain Heritage Center
    Cullowhee, NC
  • November 10, 2022–January 7, 2023 El Paso Museum of History
    El Paso, TX
  • January 28–March 16, 2023 Johnson County Museum
    Overland Park, KS
  • April 6–May 25, 2023 Sheridan Indian High School, Autry Museum of the American West
    Los Angeles, CA
  • June 16–August 11, 2023 Louisiana Old State Capitol
    Baton Rouge, LA
  • September 1–October 20, 2023 Refurbishment at Mid-America Arts Alliance
    Kansas City, MO
  • November 10, 2023–January 7, 2024 Historical & Cultural Society of Clay County
    Moorhead, MN
  • January 28–March 16, 2024 Tarrant County College
    Fort Worth, TX
  • April 6–May 25, 2024 Western Heritage Center
    Billings, MT
  • June 16–August 11, 2024 Community Memorial Museum of Sutter
    Yuba City, CA
  • September 1–October 20, 2024 Upcountry History Museum
    Greenville, SC
  • November 10, 2024–January 7, 2025 Chandler Museum
    Chandler, AZ
  • January 28–March 16, 2025 Aurora Univeristy
    Aurora, IL
  • April 6 - August 11, 2025 Chickasaw Cultural Center
    Sulpher, OK

Exhibition Details & Specifications

  • Curated By

    Janet Cantley, curator, Heard Museum

  • Organized By

    Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona
  • Content

    The exhibition will feature several freestanding units focused on thematic areas; a collection of objects, artifacts, photographs, and paper ephemera; audio/video features; interactive elements; semi-immersive environment settings; and wall-mounted banners and graphics.

  • Duration

    7-week display

  • Rental Fee


  • Grant

  • Support

    On-site support is free to the opening venue for every new NEH on the Road exhibition and to first-time hosting venues on a limited basis.

  • Shipping:

    Expense covered by NEH on the Road. Exhibitor will coordinate with NEH on the Road's registrar for all outgoing transportation arrangements.

  • Security


  • Square Feet

    Approximately 2,000 square feet

  • Number of Crates/Total Weight


  • Insurance

    The exhibition is fully insured by NEH on the Road at no additional expense to you, both while installed and during transit.

Downloads & Resources

Click HERE to view and download the Factsheet for Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories.