Experiences of Native American Indian Women on and off Reservations

Subject: Culture
Pages: 15
Words: 4099
Reading time:
15 min
Study level: PhD


Human beings have no power of choosing where to be borne or under what culture to be brought up given the circumstances surrounding the birth process. As a result, many people find themselves under circumstances which they could not want to identify themselves with under different conditions. Many go through cultural restrictions that are so stringent to the extent of limiting how one operates and conducts him or herself in the community.

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Nevertheless, it is not obvious that one will bring up children in the same way that he or she was brought up. Globalization has led to increased rates of migration and people resettle to various parts of the world. Moreover, there are parents who find themselves raising their children under different cultural backgrounds due to different reasons. These parents include Native American Indian women who were brought up on the reservations and are now bringing up their children off the reservations.

Problem Statement

Reservations are separated from the rest of the U.S. not only in the way they are governed, but also in other economic aspects. Native American Indians on reservations live under difficult conditions compared to the rest of the Americans (Browker, 1992). Moreover, American Indian women on reservations led a live that is marred with a lot of violence and different cultural expectations from other Americans (Ross, 2005). It is, however, important to note that reservations differ in various aspects which include population as well as cultural beliefs and practices (Light & Marrin, 1985).

There have been various studies that have been carried out on the people, and women specifically, that live on the reservations. However, it is crucial to state here that the studies have been limited to studying a specific character trait within the Native American Indian women on reservations. Browker studied the rate of school dropout among female who live in the Reservations. He found that the rate of dropout among women from the Reservations was high compared to other women in the U. S (Browker, 1992). The research concludes that this can be attributed to low quality of education on the reservations.

Secondly, the increased school dropout rate is associated with the different cultural background that women in the reservations are brought with. These cultural practices, Browker said, makes the women from the Reservations to have different priorities to the priorities of other women in the rest of America. On the same note, Light and Marrin have studied the child rearing process in the reservations (Light & Marrin, 1985). This study does not specifically concentrate on the guidance of women but gives an overview of how children are brought up in the reservations. The experiences that people brought up in the reservations go through while trying to assimilate the culture of the rest of American society is also highlighted. Nevertheless, the issues that women face both on and off the reservations are not examined.

In another study, Pallacios and Kennedy examine the problems that young mothers face while trying to bring up children in the Native American Indian reservations. This study depicts the difficulties and various challenges that face the process of bringing up a child on the reservation (Pallacios & Kennedy, 2010). Though not exhaustively, the study tries to look at various factors that push these women into early marriages. Hoffmann, Jackson and Smith also study Native American Indians living on Reservations from the barriers point of view. Their study looks into the barriers that hinder Native Americans from reservations from attaining high levels of educational and career development (Pallacios & Kennedy, 2010).

The past studies have never concentrated on the experiences of women from the reservations. It is, however, important to note that women from reservations face very many challenges and limiting the focus to just one aspect will lock out other probably more influential issues. On the same note, it would be important to get the information on how raising a child on and off reservations is different for women who grew up on reservations (Hodge, 2009). Moreover, the culture of Native American Indians on reservations is quite different from that of other Americans (Swischer & Hoisch, 1992). Consequently, they need special focus when studying them.

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Previous studies have concentrated on the generalization of the people from the Reservations. This study will help bring to the fore the experiences of Native American Women both on and off the reservations. On the same note, the study will seek to get direct response from women who are now raising their children on reservations and those that are doing so off the reservations.

Purpose and Significance

Culture is different and the way a given group of people carries out their day to day lives is different from the way other groups do. The study is aimed at getting information on the exact experiences that woman from reservations face. On the same note, the study will try to bring out the various personal experiences that women have gone through in the reservations that influence their day to day life. It is should be noted that various experiences that women have due to the mere fact of growing up in the reservations are unique to cultural beliefs.

Consequently, the effects of these experiences for Native American Indians cannot be generalized for all Native Americans. In this regard, the main purpose of this study is to bring out the specific experiences that are unique to Native American Indian women and how these experiences affect the child rearing process.

Getting the facts about how previous experiences of growing up on reservations affect the social life of Native American Indian women is crucial for various reasons. To begin with, the information collected from this study will be vital to shed light on the challenges faced by Native American Indian women on reservations so that actions will be taken. On the same note, the study will come up with crucial conclusions that will help organizations that are concerned with improving the living standards of Native American Indians on reservations. Furthermore, the information collected will help in improving the process of native American Indians especially women when they want to integrate into the society off reservations.

Problem Background

Many researchers have carried out studies regarding the lives of American Indians on reservations. Some researchers have examined the idea of growing up an Indian in the midst of American civilization. Some of the studies have concluded that one cannot be able to lead a life that is controlled by two cultures (Silko, 1996). Consequently, American Indians out of the reservations will have to lead their lives following the culture of where they live and just hope to be back to the reservations one day.

These studies therefore imply that even if one was raised up in the reservations, getting out of the reservations means leaving the culture behind and adapting the culture of their place of migration. Studies have also been carried out regarding the issue of taking American Indian children away from their homes and taking them to foster families. This is meant to ensure that as many people as possible are taken out of the hardships of the reservations.

In their studies, researchers have also come across women who were brought up in the reservations but have migrated out of there. However, when asked if they could be willing to go back to the reservations with their children, these women state categorically that they will not take their children back to the reservations (White, 1995). Though these women are asked why they would not be willing to go back to the reservations, they are not asked how the experience of raising up their children is different on and off the reservations.

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On the same note, some studies have been carried out concerning the difficult economic conditions that prevail in most of the reservations. These studies have highlighted the various challenges that people on reservations face in their day to day activities. These challenges include homelessness where many families have to live in houses that are too small to accommodate a family that have children.

Similarly, the quality of the houses that these families live in is very poor despite the fact that most of the people own their homes (Lankford & riley, 1986). Moreover, reservations lack basic infrastructure like running water, good roads and telecommunication. It is also worth noting that previous studies have shown that unemployment rates on reservations are very high. All these make life on the reservations more or less difficult compared to life in places.

Research Questions

The research will aim at examining the whole idea of the experience of Native American Indian women on and off the reservation. However, the specific questions to be answered during the study will be:

  1. What it means for a woman to grow up on the reservation
  2. What experiences do women who grew up on reservations have when they also raise their children on reservations?
  3. What challenges do women who grew up on reservations face when they try to raise their children off the reservations?
  4. The difference of growing up on reservations and growing up off the reservations.

Scope of the Study

The study will majorly cover women who were specifically brought up in the reservations. These women must be Native American Indians so that their cultural intrigues can be examined. The study will further seek to examine the experiences that these women have as they raise up their children. The child rearing process will be examined from both sides of the divide: those women that are rearing their children on the reservations and those that are doing so off the reservations. Nevertheless, the study will not examine the experiences of women who were brought up off the reservations but are rearing their children on reservations.

Nature of the Study

The study will be a qualitative examination of Native American Indian women on and off the reservations. The information will be collected by way of asking the women to narrate their experiences of how they were brought up. As a result, I will travel to the reservations to get first hand information on how these women are bringing up their children on reservations as well as get to know what challenges they face. On the same note, the study will follow up on Native American Indian women who were brought up on reservations and are now living off the reservations. I will also try to get the experiences of these women regarding the child rearing process off the reservations. Due to scarcity of data on previous studies concerning this area, the study will generate its own data and information from the interactions with people.

Theoretical Framework

The study will employ two theoretical frameworks to ensure that reliable conclusions are provided. This will also help in elimination of the problem of subjectivity. To begin with, the study will use Eisner’s Connoisseurship model of inquiry which has been applauded for its breadth. On the same note, the model uses information collected in many different forms. The model is based on the fact that people gain their experience about the world in many different ways. On the same note, the model has been chosen because it recognizes that studying human behavior has both subjective and objective elements and has a way of eliminating the subjective elements.

Secondly, the study will employ the constructivism theory. This theory has been chosen because it is based on the fact that people will always use what they know from past experience to construct new ideas. This theory argues that people do not just learn through reading of books but through experiences that they face in their day to day activities. According to the theory, people’s past experiences are very crucial in determining how people will conduct themselves and consequently how they will raise their children. It is important to note that the study is about the past experiences of Native American Indian women who were raised up on reservations and how that affects the childrearing process

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Literature review

American Indians on reservations live in abject poverty and harsh conditions of life compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country. This has culminated into various challenges in the way people lead their lives in the society. Given the role of a woman in any typical Indian society, Native American Indian women find themselves in precarious situations as far as societal issues are concerned.

Many studies have been carried out to examine the effects on community affairs of the experiences of growing up on reservations. Fox, Becker-Green, Gault & Simmons (2005) found that appreciating racial and ethnical diversity is very important in enhancing community integration. In her study of the Native American Indian women managers, Muller looks at the double life that these women have to lead. She depicts that despite American Indians being among the groups that are entering the job market in large numbers; they are doing so in unequal terms compared to other Americans (Muller, 1998).

One of the aspects that have been examined in detail concerning the Native American Indian women on reservations is the fact that they have to endure very difficult conditions. To begin with, these women have to put up with extremely intricate tribal gender expectations as well as cultural conflicts as they grow up. These experiences make the expectations of these women to differ from those of other American women. Swischer and Hoisch (1992) state that every minority and especially racio-ethnic group has a distinct culture which differentiates from other groups. Consequently, the group will have unique social constructions and relationships with people.

Native American women especially those on reservations are taught to be shy and avoid eye contact with their elders and men as much as possible. Moreover, they are not supposed to present themselves in a manner that will expose them to everybody. Nonetheless, the world nowadays has responsibilities for women that require them to be proactive. Kuntz, Hill, Linkenbach, Lande & Larsson (2009) concluded that bringing up a child off the reservations will expose him or her to different cultures from those of the parents. It therefore becomes a daunting task for mothers to decide which culture they should allow their children to learn.

According to Kuntz et al. (2009), women who are raised on reservations are not supposed to be competitive which gives the problems especially when they have to raise their children in a competitive environment. These women have to decide whether to teach their children what they need to survive in the competitive world or to teach them what their culture demands (Kuntz et al., 2009). It is important to note that the first option means disregarding of their culture altogether.

Female education is not given much emphasis in Native American Indians especially those on reservations. Studies have shown that education and career development especially for women is really inconsequential as far as societal expectations are concerned. The study carried out by Hoffmann, Jackson and smith (2005), shows that religion and spirituality are the main forces that guide people’s life in the Native American Indian society.

It is important to note that the American Indian culture is based on spirituality and religion regulates what people consider as being right or wrong in society. A woman is respected on the grounds of cultural expectations and religion (Hoffmann et al., 2005). Traditions are very crucial and any woman is expected to follow them in order to gain respect. Any woman who is not conversant with the traditional way of doing things is regarded lowly in the society no matter her educational status.

Of great importance to note is that the culture of American Indians places more emphasis on community and family before anything else. Nevertheless, in other American cultures issues such as corporate affairs are given great attention compared to community issues. Children are seen as a gift from God and they are loved and taken care of by everybody in the community. On the contrary, the white culture or the Anglo culture places the responsibility on an individual and to a minimal extent the immediate family. As a result, rearing a child off the reservations comes with a completely new experience compared to doing so on reservations (Muller, 1998).

Studies have also shown that traditions give responsibilities to various women depending on their understanding of the culture. When a woman has been given a certain responsibility in the community on reservations have a duty to be part of the community. In this regard, these women will have to be back to the community even when they are outside the reservations (Lankford & Riley, 1986). For these women, there is always the dilemma of which culture to teach their children. Moreover, these women are expected to hold the responsibilities that society has given them with high regard compared to their personal achievement.

The education system on reservations has also been studied extensively. In most of the studies, the education system has been depicted as oblivious of the vital societal and cultural needs of the youths. As a result, the wholesome person is not given emphasis which makes talent discovery quite rare. Consequently, the rate of school dropout among Native American Indian youth is relatively high compared to other parts of the country (Bowker, 1992). Women find themselves on the receiving end of all these. When out of school at an early age, women face a lot of obstacles in achieving their dreams compared to men. In many instances, girls end up being married at an early age and remain within the control of their husbands. These are some of the experiences that are not easily found in the rest of America.

Studies have also indicated that life on the reservations is more or less similar to life in developing world. As a result, women on these parts of our great nation undergo very difficult living conditions compared to other Americans. Poverty rates are highest among American Indians on reservations compared to other groups of people living in America. The high poverty rates have compelled the youth to start working at a relatively tender age. The role that this society places on women compels female youth to engage in responsibilities very early in life. As Osburn (2009) states, poverty has direct impacts on various life factors including employment, education, Health and family background. In this regard, the reservations are characterized by high infant mortality rates, low life expectancy and malnutrition (Osburn, 2009).

According to Rizos and Krizova (2007), drug abuse is a serious problem on the reservations because it affects both the old and young people. Alcoholism is prevalent given the fact that alcohol is easily available. In this regard, many people whether male or female are exposed to drugs when they are very young. Most of the men take on drinking while leaving the duty of taking care of their families to their women. As a result, women face serious challenges bringing up children. The effects of alcohol can be seen in society. Children are born with various defects because their mothers take alcohol when they are pregnant (Rizos & Krizova, 2007). These defects include fetal alcohol effect as well as learning, emotional and behavioral problems that are as a result of nerve problems.

It is also important to note that like any other culture, the culture of American Indians is also changing with time. The cultural beliefs that were important in the historic periods like honesty, respect, generosity and humbleness are slowly losing their significance. Nevertheless, individual identity has taken root in the society nowadays. As a result, various religious factors are not passed to the newer generations (Light & Marrin, 1985). This means that the experience of bringing up children is also changing with time. While connectedness to one’s culture was very crucial to ensure positive behavior in yesteryears, the same is not the case for those living off the reservations. These dynamics in the way of life of Native American Indians on reservations is very crucial and needs extensive study.


The research proposes to employ a multi-dimensional method of study whereby surveys, interviews, literature review and cultural frameworks will be used. This has been chosen because of the ability to get a variety of results thus enabling comparison across the board to increase precision and validity of the results.

Literature review will help in providing knowledge into existing information about the topic as well as providing an idea of what exactly has been studied regarding experiences of women on and off the reservations. The literature review will therefore be concentrated on books, journals, credible websites, newspapers and other peer reviewed scholarly articles about the topic. On the same note, cultural frameworks have been used by many scholars in the past to study the cultural differences, and though they are not as objective as may be required they will provide a good platform to understand the impact of cultural differences (McSweeney 2002).

On top of that, surveys and interviews will provide first hand information of what is actually happening on the ground, besides presenting the opportunity of participating and thus fully understanding what it means for a woman to raise her children on and off the reservations. Additionally, the two will enable collection of recent data as well as paving way for understanding how recent social-cultural changes are affecting Native American Indian women.

Data collected will be analyzed using NVivo computer software so as to get themes and variations in the shared experiences. This software has been chosen because of its ability to handle any amount of data and produce credible results. Moreover, this qualitative data handling software is able to handle information in any language which makes it ideal incase some women give information in a language other than English. Furthermore, the software can handle data in virtually every format. Besides this, data collected will be tabulated and graphed to generate results to compare with results from previous studies.

Possible Sources and Types of Data

The study will mainly conduct a survey on women who were brought up on the reservations to get their experiences. Additionally, the study will seek to get the experiences of these women as they raise their children on or off the reservations. In this regard, the study will involve traveling to the reservations and interviewing the Native American Indian women to get first hand information from these women. Besides listening to the experiences of these women, the study may also issue questionnaires to women who will be able to write and get their side of the story.

Justification of the Study

Native American Indian women on reservations face peculiar challenges as they carry out their day to day activities. Records show that violence against women is prevalent on reservations than it is in other parts of America. On the same note, women in any society are the ones tasked with the duty of bringing up children and they thus contribute a great deal to the child rearing process. Though studies have been done on the various issues that affect Native American Indian women on reservations, various gaps still exist.

To begin with, previous studies have been limited to specific issues for example education and financial independence. Moreover, previous studies have never tried to compare the experiences of those Native American women that are raising their children on reservations and those that are doing so off the reservations. This study aims at bridging these gaps in research.

Limitations of the Study

The child rearing process is a duty of both the father and the mother. Nevertheless, the study will be one sided concentrating only on the experiences of women. However, there is a possibility that men highly influence the experience of women in the child rearing process given that the society is patriarchal. The elimination of men from this study is one of the major limitations of this study. Moreover, the study will not look at the experiences of women who were brought up off the reservation but find themselves bringing up their children on the reservations.

It is important to note that these women also have various challenges trying to adapt to the society given the fact that cultural expectations are different. There is also the question of time because listening to each person takes time. Therefore, there is need for research to be conducted on the experiences of women who grew up off the reservations but are bringing up their children on the reservations. Moreover, it is likely that other women can give highly subjective response because of various personal issues.


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