Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Forest and Conservation Science

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Michael Patterson

Commitee Members

Laurie Yung, Alan Watson, Kathryn Shanley, Richard Clow


University of Montana


American Indians are a demographic who has been historically excluded from higher education and are still underrepresented, especially in the field of natural resources. The purpose of this research is to examine the educational experiences of American Indians in such programs. With respect to factors that may influence educational experiences, special attention was focused on the effect of traditional culture on their learning and the impact of the educational frameworks in their degree programs. The research design was guided by two research paradigms: indigenous research methodologies and hermeneutics. Thirty individuals stories and experiences were explored through the use of in-depth interviews and three individuals participated in a Talking Circle.

Interviews were analyzed at idiographic and nomethetic levels. At the idiographic level, interviewees had varying levels of challenge along their academic journeys and were categorized into smooth, intermediate, or challenging categories. Interviewees within the smooth category either had strong support systems or were employed by their tribes while pursuing their degrees. Interviewees in the intermediate category took additional time to mature and find their paths, faced issues related to having an Indian identity, or lacked preparation for working with tribes. The interviewees in the challenging category were failed by the academic system and often experienced overt racism within their academic experiences.

At the nomethetic level, there were three themes: Tribal Culture, People, and Vision. Tribal culture and having an Indian identity positively influenced as well as contributed to some negative experiences in interviewees’ academic journeys. Family and people within the academic system were significant people either positively or negatively impacting interviewees’ journeys. To a lesser degree, people within interviewees’ communities and professionals in the field of natural resources were also impacted their academic journeys.

Interviewees described their vision of a natural resource degree program for Native students starting with the program structure, as well as the curriculum and teaching methods. Students would have preparation for working for tribal agencies and would be able to pursue research with tribal emphases. They also had visions of a support system that would include various people such as staff and faculty, as well as mentors.


© Copyright 2016 Ruth Ann Swaney