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“To My Relations…”: A Case Study of Native American High School Youth Identities and Writing in an Indigenous College Preparatory Program

  • Author(s): Cisneros, Nora Alba
  • Advisor(s): Sol�rzano, Daniel G
  • et al.

This qualitative study examines the experiences of Native American urban high school students in an Indigenous college preparatory program. Attainment of higher education is very important to Indigenous college students, their families, their communities, and their nations (Brayboy, 2005; Quijada, 2012; Keene, 2014). However, few studies have outlined how Native American high school students make sense of higher education and how they engage in college preparation pathways. As such, this study identifies the structural challenges that limit Native American high school students’ access to higher education. Guided by the insights of Tribal Critical Race Theory (Brayboy, 2005), Indigenous Methodologies (Kovach, 2009) and Chicana Feminist Epistemology (Delgado Bernal, 1998), this study also illuminates how writing emerged as a salient pedagogy for affirming urban Native American students’ intersectional identities and educational aspirations.

Employing a case study method as well as Indigenous methodologies, this study focused on 20 Native American high school participants’, ages 15-18, who participated in an Indigenous college preparatory program. Eighteen out of the twenty participants self-identified as female and two students self-identified as male. The student participants attended urban public schools in Southern California while participating in a year-long college preparatory program developed by Native American educators at a public research university. Data for this study is drawn from 1) interviews of participants schooling experiences, 2) Sharing Circles, 3) participant observations, and 4) a collaborative analysis with participants of over 60 written documents (letters, essays, personal statements, and journal entries). Preliminary themes from written documents were identified and presented to student participants for a collaborative analysis and development of sharing circle protocols. Following this process, final themes were identified. Findings from the study indicated that, through an Indigenous college preparatory program, Native American youth in urban schools can be engaged as writers to imagine more just education practices, more meaningful social movements across communities, and ultimately more empowered ways of living while refusing settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy. This study offers recommendations for college preparatory programs and targeted writing pedagogies to prepare Indigenous students to become competitive for baccalaureate education that contributes to the sovereignties of Indigenous peoples.

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