First Nations Participation in Graduate Studies
Willett, Enos Cameron
Statistics on First Nations participation in postsecondary studies are abysmally dismaying (Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN), 2002). Literature suggests that contributing factors include experiences of cognitive dissonance amongst First Nations students (Huffman, Sill, & Brokenleg, 1986), a lack of respect for First Nations people in the academy (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 1991), and an underrepresentation of First Nations faculty (Hampton, 1995). To effectively address these issues, it is critical that postsecondary institutions understand the factors that contribute to motivation of First Nations people. The purpose of this naturalistic study was to describe the factors that motivated three First Nations adults in Saskatchewan to enroll in graduate studies. I selected three first-year, First Nations students who were enrolled in graduate studies in the province of Saskatchewan using the snowball sampling technique (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998, p. 64). Two hour-long, open-ended interviews were used to allow each participant to describe the factors for enrolling in graduate studies in their own terms (Bogdan & Biklen, 1998; Hampton, 1995; Van Stone, Nelson, & Niemann, 1994) and to create a "discourse between interviewer and respondent" (Mishler, 1986, p. 53). I then incorporated my own voice into the data alongside the participants' voices because I realized that "the researcher's relationship to the inquiry and to the participants shapes the research text" (Clandinin & Connelly, 1998, p. 171). In this study I found that the three participants were motivated primarily by factors of expedience, such as an increase in pay, career advancement, and prestige. However, for each participant, "traditional" First Nations education was seen as authentic education, while education in terms of accreditation, skills and qualifications is only "playing the game." To put it another way, Indigenous knowledge is authentic to their experience, while economic rationalism is an "artificial context" (Henderson, 2000b, p. 12) which they cannot avoid, a game they must play in order to make a living. While the three participants are fulfilling the need to earn a living in the modem world, they have not forgotten or lost their Aboriginal identity; far from it. Alongside their individualistic, goal-oriented motivations, each participant was able to articulate an explicit, parallel, communal purpose to their participation. Each participant walks in two worlds as an embodiment of Little Bear's (2000) "ambidextrous consciousness" (p. 85).