Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy ETDs

Publication Date

Fall 11-11-2021


The experiences of Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Students (PIIS) need to be understood so that educators and administrators can include the experiences, perspectives, and realities of Indigenous students who have been previously incarcerated in Adult Basic Education (ABE) and collegiate programs at Tribal Community Colleges and Universities (TCUs). To date, considering and providing targeted support for this population has not been part of the focus of TCUs even when all tribal colleges work to strengthen the cultural heritage of their respective tribes (Bad Wound, 1990) and some students at TCUs are PIIS. This qualitative study offers a respectful critique of higher education including TCUs and focuses on the marginalization of PIIS in society and in educational settings. This includes the definitions of school-related success that Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Students define for themselves and/or that they are defined by. With this study I focused on how these students’ experiences, make meaning of, and navigate higher education. The findings from this study offer a counternarrative of a marginalized, institutionally and systemically, student population by showing and making meaning of their voices, experiences, and perspectives. This study focuses on Indigenous students who have been incarcerated and then become students at TCUs. This qualitative study employed individual and collective semi-structured interviews. Findings are shared through portraitures (Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Davis, J. H., 1997) of PIIS and thematic analysis of student and instructor data. Individual and semi-structured interviews were conducted remotely because of pandemic restrictions with students and faculty at a TCU in New Mexico. Findings may be helpful for a shift in understanding how to assist incoming classroom educators to meet the educational needs of their students. Narratives from this study suggest and provide insights for a shift in pedagogy that is more inclusive of this population. Historical situations, such as settler colonialism and societal marginalization contribute to contemporary circumstances that Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Students and classroom educators need to navigate on a daily basis. I provide both portrait and thematic findings that are included in student portraitures of some individual student participants and listing the main theme titles that include student and faculty narratives. A combination of individual student participants and faculty narratives created themes titled: Steering Our Boat - Helping Ourselves and Each Other as Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Students, Innovating to Navigate the College Journey as Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Students and Meaning and Implications of Previously Incarcerated Indigenous Student Experiences.


previously incarcerated, Indigenous, ABE students, degree attainment, tribal colleges, Native American college students

Document Type




Degree Name

Educational Leadership

Level of Degree


Department Name

Teacher Education, Educational Leadership & Policy

First Committee Member (Chair)

Alicia F. Chávez

Second Committee Member

Robin "Zape-tah-hol-ah" Starr Minthorn

Third Committee Member

Nancy López

Fourth Committee Member

Cecelia Cometsevah