"There's nothing not complicated about being Indian:" American Indian student experiences in a mainstream middle school
This dissertation is a qualitative case study of the experiences of American Indian students attending a mainstream middle school. Presented as a set of three independent, but closely related articles, this research offers insight into several different phenomena experienced by American Indian students. In the first article, I present my findings on how American Indian students experience the social and intellectual environment of school. In this study, I found that American Indian students must make choices--engage in behaviors that go against their cultural background in order to be successful, or continue to engage in their cultural behaviors and risk marginalization in the classroom. The second article addresses some of the tensions that exist in the call for more culturally responsive schooling by studying the curriculum and teacher pedagogy of an eighth grade social studies class. Following work on TribalCrit, I focus primarily on the ways in which the concepts of race, culture and colonialism are treated in the curriculum. I found that not only does the curriculum fail to address these concepts adequately, the current curriculum reinforces notions of colonialism and White supremacy, thereby normalizing Whiteness, and presenting any perspective outside Whiteness as the "Other." The third article is a reflection on the theoretical lenses researchers have historically used when studying American Indian education and the broader purpose(s) of conducting research in American Indian communities. This article advances the argument that to counter the educational debt incurred by American Indian students we need purposeful research in American Indian communities that demonstrates a commitment to methodologies and methods rooted in American Indian knowledge and praxis and theoretical approaches that align with American Indian philosophies and worldviews. When read together, these articles highlight elements missing from the conversation on American Indian education research. Too often research with American Indian students occurs at tribally controlled schools, despite the fact that over 90% of American Indian students attend mainstream public schools. This study is my contribution to the goal of increasing equity in education for American Indian young people. My research suggests that while oppressive practices toward American Indians students continue to occur, educators have power to disrupt the practices that inhibit American Indian students from participating equally in the school environment.