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Native American Student Perspectives of Challenges in Natural Resource Higher Education

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Native Americans have vital interests in promoting forest management decisions based on sound science and consistent with cultural values to sustain and conserve tribal natural resources. Advancing the next generation of natural resource professionals into key positions is essential to advance the self-determination of tribes; yet, there are unique challenges Native American students encounter when pursuing an advanced degree in natural resources. We formed an informal group of Native Americans who have been undergraduate and/or graduate students in natural resource fields to discuss their experiences in higher education. The group discussed their personal paths to and experiences in undergraduate and graduate programs, including academics and campus culture. Students collectively identified several significant deterrents, including insufficient access to mentors with experience working with tribal communities at nontribal universities, as well as a lack of interdisciplinary courses that integrate tribal land management practices and traditional ecological knowledge with nontribal and western ecological science. Based on our findings, we suggest practices and programs that academic institutions can emphasize to address the challenges in recruiting and retaining Native Americans in natural resource-related programs.

Management and Policy Implications The standard educational experience of a forester or natural resource manager takes place at nontribal institutions of higher learning. In the face of a vulnerable climate, it is necessary for these professionals to have an education rooted in interdisciplinary skills that balances the management of natural resource products and services with consideration of societal values. Tribal foresters and natural resource managers have an added expectation in that they must also be well versed in tribal regulations and protocols and consider indigenous cultural values surrounding those resources. This article explores the complex experience of being a Native American student studying natural resources. Native students have practical challenges like any other student, namely financial and relocation issues. Additional challenges regarding the learning environment include subject material, impostor syndrome, and scarcity of Native American mentors. It is important for educational and management programs that are steeped in western scientific approaches to not marginalize traditional ecological knowledge, but instead help students in reconciling and applying different sources of knowledge and values to address contemporary challenges. Institutions can address these issues through programs and training advisers to support students in upholding their family and community obligations, hiring more faculty of Native backgrounds and with tribal experience, and developing interdisciplinary curricula that prepare students for careers working in Native communities by encouraging investigation of tribal issues and context.
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Keywords: American Indian tribes; Indian forestry; higher education; traditional ecological knowledge

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: September 25, 2017

This article was made available online on January 19, 2017 as a Fast Track article with title: "Native American Student Perspectives of Challenges in Natural Resource Higher Education".

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