"What am I doing to be a good ancestor?": an indigenized phenomenology of giving back among Native college graduates




Reyes, Nicole Alia

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Although literature consistently notes giving back as a motivating factor and goal of Native college students (Brayboy, 2004; Drywater-Whitekiller, 2010; Guillory & Wolverton, 2008), no study describes giving back in detail. With this in mind, this research examines the essence of giving back as it is experienced by Native (Native Hawaiian, Native American, and Alaska Native) college graduates. It explores how Native college graduates come to value giving back, how they enact giving back, and how they make meaning of giving back. Guided by phenomenological (Husserl, 1970; Moustakas, 1994; van Manen, 1990) and Indigenous (Chilisa, 2012; Kovach, 2009; L. T. Smith, 1999; Wilson, 2008) research methodologies, I uncovered a meaning structure of giving back through analysis of interview data. It describes that giving back informs worldview; takes place at the intersection of passion, expertise, and opportunity; is experienced simultaneously as a privilege, a responsibility, a gift, and a burden; involves building and nurturing relationships; is mediated through considerations of place; and ensures community survivance. From the perspective of Tribal Critical Race Theory (TribalCrit) (Brayboy, 2005a), Kanaka Maoli Critical Race Theory (KanakaCrit) (Salis Reyes, 2014c), and Indigenous critical pedagogy (Grande, 2008; Salis Reyes, 2014a; L. T. Smith, 1999), Native college graduates who choose to give back effectively forge bridges between education and Native self-determination. This study highlights what Native college graduates choose to invest in their nations, how, and for what purposes. This knowledge may be used to reconceptualize and to work toward greater postsecondary success for Native peoples.


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Critical Race Theory, Decolonization, Giving Back, Higher Education, Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous research methodologies



Educational Leadership and Policy Studies