UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Pulling together in the academic canoe : the experiences of indigenous doctoral students Commodore, Heather Lynn


An area of research that has had little attention is the experiences of Indigenous doctoral students, told from their perspectives. This study offers an in-depth understanding of Indigenous doctoral students’ experiences related to admission and all program milestones during their enrollment in a Canadian research-intensive university. In this research 13 Indigenous doctoral students, most of whom were enrolled in the Faculty of Education doctoral programs at the University of British Columbia, shared their life experience stories about (a) how their web of relationships with family, community, peers, mentors, program structures, and university structures combined to support, guide, and assist them prior to and during their studies; (b) how they created community spaces to remain connected to their programs academically and socially; and (c) how they viewed tensions between their programmatic experiences and their community affiliations. For many Indigenous students, the doctoral journey does not occur in isolation, which is theorized through the lens of Kirkness and Barnhardts’ 4Rs, of Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity, and Responsibility (1991). The participants’ life experience stories were situated within Archibald’s (2008b) Indigenous Storywork methodology to safeguard the integrity of the stories’ meanings. I discovered that some Indigenous students found the higher education experience isolating and challenging, if not alienating, and did not feel that the university was a place for them. However, they also experienced success through creating community, maintaining their family and cultural connections, engaging in Indigenous peer-support and mentoring programs, and receiving respectful mentoring from faculty. University services and programs that provided a safe, culturally responsive environment for Indigenous doctoral students to flourish included the First Nations Longhouse; Supporting Aboriginal Graduate Enhancement, which is a peer support program; and an annual Indigenous Graduate Student Symposium. A contribution of this study is the extension of Kirkness and Barnhardt’s 4Rs to include Recognition, Reclamation, Redress, and Reconciliation. These additional 4Rs stem from the findings and emphasize the importance of doctoral studies for Indigenous students’ future leadership, policy, and self-determination contributions to their own communities and to Canadian society.

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