Navigating Tribal Credentialism: An Ethnographic Case Study of the Higher Education Perceptions within a Pacific Northwest Tribal Community
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This ethnographic dissertation examines contemporary perceptions of higher education within the context of a Tribal government. The purpose of this dissertation is to understand how Tribal community members perceive higher education as related to Tribal self-determination. This project was partially modeled around two specific research questions relating to Brayboy’s (2012) model of self-determination. Specific research questions for this dissertation included: (1) What are the perceptions of education in a Tribal community as they relate to sovereignty, nation building, and self-determination? (2) Are there differences among perceptions of education between groups (e.g., traditionalists v. credentialists)? In addition to addressing the specific research questions, this project also included a modified grounded theory to foster emergent theme development. Emergent theme development was intended to account for narratives beyond specific research questions. Participants were presented the following questions in one-on-one, open-ended interviews organized around the following questions: (1) How is formal education important for Tribal members? (2) How is formal education important to Tribal community development? (3) What formal educational credentials are most important to the operations of the Tribe? (4) What do you think formal educational credentials represent? (5) What tensions exist between a formal education v. cultural knowledge? (6) What do you think should be the ideal process of Tribal higher education? (7) How well do you think the current educational policies and practices of the Tribe complement self-determination? (8) What are the goals of a self-determination education? Results for this project were mixed. Narratives indicated a relative absence of conceptual constructs associated with Brayboy’s model of self-determination. Additionally, narratives also did not indicate a robust example of group dynamic. Results appeared to indicate an underlying presence of epistemological standpoints to frame Tribal higher education in terms of: (1) Formal Credentials; (2) Practical Experience; and (3) Cultural Experience. Finally, emergent theme development established how educational credentials are promoted, valued, and employed within the Tribal government setting. Narratives produced an extremely nuanced and dynamic landscape of perceptions, groups, utilities, tensions, obstacles, and reforms within Tribes. Narratives also indicated the presence of educational credentialism affecting self-determination in Tribal communities.