Native American Mothers Living off Reservations


This chapter shall discuss how the study will explore the insights of Native American mothers who are living off the reservations. The researcher will find out their current living conditions, quality of living and their parenting experiences in raising their children. The following questions shall guide the research:

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  1. What does it mean for a Native American woman to grow up in the Native American Indian reservation?
  2. What experiences have led Native American women who grew up in the reservations to choose to raise their own children off the reservations?
  3. What challenges do women who grew up in the reservations face when they try to raise their children off the reservations?
  4. What may be the reasons for Native American women who grew up in the reservations for their decision to stay and raise their children off the reservations?

Research Definitions

Research is “the systematic process of collecting and analyzing information (data) in order to increase our understanding of the phenomenon about which we are concerned or interested” (Leedy & Ormond, 2005, p.4). This agrees with the definition of Saunders et al. (2007) which is “something that people undertake in order to find out things in a systematic way, thereby increasing their knowledge” (p. 5). Systematic means it should be based on reason and logic and not just subjective assumptions (Ghauri & Grønhaug, 2005), hence, it needs some tools and techniques for the collection and analysis of information.

Research can provide new evidence to challenge established theories, possibly creating a paradigm shift depending on its strength of persuasion. Harlow (2010) contends that research is conducted in order to contribute to theory. Such contribution could be the product of exploration of a researcher, making it an original one. It can also validate more established theories or concepts of previous theorists.

The first step in doing research is the statement of a research problem which the researcher wants to study. It may be based on a previous theory or could be geared towards a new theory (Ellis & Levy, 2008). Gathering information uses research methods appropriate to the study such as descriptive case studies, empirical/ quantitative, qualitative or mixed methods using both quantitative and qualitative methods, experimental, quasi-experimental and simulated studies. These research methods utilize various research tools such as questionnaires, interviews, observations, etc. which should address the research questions posed in the study (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005).

Qualitative Research

Research may be differentiated in two major approaches, quantitative and qualitative research. Quantitative research leans on scientific accuracy and provides evidence-based conclusions (Peat, 2002). It uses strategies such as surveys, experiments or other pre-determined methods and closed-ended questions yielding results that are measurable (Cresswell, 2003). It tests theories, sort out variables and employ statistical procedures that maximize the numerical data derived. On the other hand, qualitative research methods are used in understanding phenomena with limited information or in drawing up new perspectives on phenomena that has been studied already (Straus & Corbin, 1990). Where quantitative methods fail to explain certain information, qualitative methods may help in understanding it with more breadth and depth (Robson, 2002).

Bryman (2008) summarizes the major common features of qualitative methodology. Firstly, the focus on meanings and understanding the culture of those being studied implies that qualitative researchers, as far as possible, work in natural settings. This suggests a preference for observation and informal interviews, rather than experiments and standardized interviews. Secondly, qualitative research aims to generate theories from the data that emerge. The data is analyzed and interpreted simultaneously with the ongoing process of collecting data. Thirdly, qualitative research is likely to be concerned with process, rather than outcomes, and attempts to provide a contextual understanding of complex issues and interrelationships (Bryman 2008; Denzin & Lincoln 2005).

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Roberts-Holmes (2005) explains that qualitative researchers believe people create and share similar understanding of various situations. The use of narratives, case studies, observations and interviews to gather information enables them to elicit personal views of participants and interpret the data they have gathered in an attempt to move towards change or reformations or simply just to bring about better understanding of the phenomenon (Cresswell, 2003). For this study, research methods grounded in interpretive epistemological assumptions were employed to understand the phenomenon of Native American women who chose live outside the reservations and how they raise their children. A very suitable method for this topic is the Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which is a qualitative methodology that probes and explores participants’ insights to fully understand or at least gain a clearer perspective of what they go through in certain situations (Smith, 1996). It is essential for the social researcher to create knowledge through understanding the world with the eyes of the participants (Bryman, 2008). Thus phenomenology points to “an interest in the nature of human experience and the meaning that people attach to their experiences, with the assumption that the important reality is what people perceive it to be” (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009, p.26). Similarly, Berger and Luckmann (1966) earlier observed that

“…the sociology of knowledge must first of all concern itself with what people ‘know’ as ‘reality’ in their everyday non-or pre theoretical lives” (Berger & Luckmann 1966, p.27). Hence, whatever information the researcher can obtain from in-depth semi-structured interviews with participants can be thoroughly analyzed with reflective interpretative analysis (Smith, 1999). This means that interpretive research allows the individual to shape reality using its own interpretations, meanings and understanding (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009). For this research emphasis is placed on the active involvement of people in reality construction of common practices of Native American women in their child-rearing practices outside the reservation. In addition, secondary literature has been valuable in substantiating the findings.

Data Collection Methods

For this study, the qualitative methods of Qualitative Content Analysis of the literature and in-depth interviews were adjudged the most suitable research methods for the research topic.

Qualitative Content Analysis

A comprehensive review of literature is essential in any study. This is because existing theories or practices as well as the experience or knowledge of experts and previous research provide a good foundation as well as an abundance of related constructs to the main topic of study (Krippendorff, 2004). In reviewing the literature, a competent researcher analyzes the content together with the data he wishes to pursue. Content analysis is “a research technique for making replicable and valid inferences from texts (or other meaningful matter) to the contexts of their use” (Krippendorff , 2004, p.18). It aims to provide knowledge, new insights, , a representation of facts and a practical guide to action (Elo & Kyngas 2008).

The difference between qualitative content analysis and quantitative research methods is the presentation of the problem or topic to be studied. If quantitative research poses hypotheses, qualitative research poses open questions which guide the research and influence the data to be gathered (White and Marsh, 2006). The qualitative data is analyzed so concepts and patterns may be identified which are important to consider and report.

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The researcher, having done the literature review, has found that there is a lack of pertinent, first-hand information about the topic being studied, hence, this study is currently being conducted. However, previous researches have yielded helpful and relevant information regarding Native American women and their common background being raised in Indian reservations, and such information shall be used to analyze the qualitative data gathered during the interviews.

In-depth Interviews

Using interviews as a data-gathering method enables participants to discuss their interpretations of a concept as well as provide them with the chance to express their own opinions regarding the concept (Cohen et al., 2000). They are enabled to convey their personal feelings, opinions, experiences and interpretations of given situations (Milena, Dainora & Alin, 2008). Other qualitative methods such as observation or questionnaires may not provide Information as thorough as that taken from in-depth interviews (Blaxter, Hughes & Tight 2006).

Like questionnaires, interviews directly provoke a response by asking specific questions to participants. Robson (2002) draws attention to the three different styles of interview; fully structured; semi-structured and unstructured. In a fully structured interview, the interviewer has predetermined questions and uses them in a pre-set order. The semi-structured interview uses predetermined questions where the order can be modified or adapted as necessary. In an unstructured interview, the interviewer has a general area of interest, yet allows conversation to develop freely. This is the style of interview to be used by the researcher for this study.

Sensitive and responsible questioning on the part of interviewers can enhance the responses of the (Frey and Mertens-Oishi, 1995). In interviews, the response rate of participants is higher than in questionnaires because they are more involved in the process (Oppenheim 1992). It is a flexible tool that adapts to the situation and responses of the participants and being able to immediately follow up on their answers is one advantage this method has over others (Robson 2002).

A major disadvantage in any interview situation is the possibility of bias. (Grinnell & Unrau, 2008) The interviewer may unwittingly divulge his own opinion or expectations by the tone of his voice, or in the way questions are asked. Even when recording the interview it is important to remain aware of bias having an effect on how answers are understood and transcribed. However, these methods are a quick way to assess participant’s sincerity. Although participants may not always respond truthfully, honesty will need to be emphasized. Additionally theoretical orientation may bias questions and interpretation of answers.

Participants of the Study

Finding the most suitable sample of participants for a research study may be a difficult endeavour (Moore, 2006). The basic principle of taking a sample from a large group, then inferring the characteristics of the whole group, from that of the sample, is not as straightforward as it seems. A sample must be representative of the population being surveyed, and this can be achieved by selecting randomly from a sampling frame. As Bell (1999) points out researchers are dependent on the goodwill and availability of subjects, and it can be difficult to achieve a true random sample.

This study is interested in interviewing Native American mothers who reside outside Indian reservations but are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe. Most likely, participants to be recruited are those from the Montana reservations or possibly from North Dakota. The criteria in the selection of the participants are as follows:

  1. They should be Native American women who were raised in Indian reservations.
  2. They are enrolled in a federally recognized tribe.
  3. They have decided to leave the reservations and reside off it.
  4. They are raising their child/children off the reservations either single-handedly or with a spouse/partner.

Finding women with the specific criteria required may be difficult for the researcher unless she goes to places frequented by such women or at best, find a community where there are several identified women as described in the criteria. The researcher will seek help from people from her university. Posting an announcement about her need for such participants around the university campus would be a good start. The announcement shall call on anyone who knows Native American mothers who reside outside the reservations to refer her to them to be participants in her dissertation study. Her contact details shall likewise be included in the notice.

Apart from the university, she can approach agencies known for supporting Native Americans and ask for referrals for participants. Once she finds the first or second prospective participant, it would be easier for her to be referred to others, especially those known by the first two participants. Another option is using social media such as Facebook to recruit participants, as in that platform, news and information spread easily to a wide network in a short period of time. She can post the notice on her Facebook page and set the privacy settings to “public” so anyone can see it or set up a public page to attract prospective participants who may possess the desired criteria for participants of her study. It is important for her to inform her own social network that she needs their help in disseminating such information until the actual participants get hold of the notice. The researcher is aiming for eight to twelve (8-12) participants for this study.

Estimated duration of the interview is an hour or two depending on the openness and willingness of the participant to engage in honest and detailed conversation about her life as a Native American woman who chose to live outside the reservation and raise her children away from it.

The researcher is aware that there are various factors which may contribute to the unreliability of the data to be gathered from the interviews and will try her best to reduce them the best way possible. One is researcher bias on the part of the participants. Participants may make an effort and cooperate just to please the researcher even if what they share may not be true. Hence, honesty and sincerity on the part of the participants should be emphasized and they should be assured that no judgment shall be passed on what they will share. An additional factor may be participant error, which may result from exhaustion due to the thoroughness of the interview process (Robson, 2002). The researcher shall make it a point to have reasonable breaks during the interview if she observes any symptoms of tiredness on the part of the participants.


Interviews shall be conducted in an agreed venue which is neutral territory for the participants. It should be conducive to the participants to share their insights openly without any threat to their safety and security. Possible venues are a coffee shop, a chapel or a park. Schedule of interview sessions shall be at the convenience of the participants.


Upon gaining the necessary permits, if any, to conduct interviews with the participants, the researcher shall contact the participants individually to explain what the study is all about – its objectives, significance and negotiate the details of the interview schedule. On the day of the interview, the researcher shall conduct the interview guided by prepared questions, however, is open to the direction the discussion may go in case the participants may choose to spend more time on some questions or bring up related topics to the discussion.

The whole interview shall be audio-recorded with the permission of the interviewee. To avoid the participants being self-conscious, therefore affecting their candidness and spontaneity, video recording shall be avoided. The recordings shall be transcribed in verbatim for further analysis after the interview.

Confidentiality of the participants’ identity shall also be ensured to gain the trust and rapport of the participants and to make them feel more confident in sharing their own personal experiences and insights.

The researcher shall give a token of appreciation to each participant at the end of the interview to show her gratitude for their time and effort in participating in the study. It is best that she does not inform them beforehand of the token so that they remain candid and free from any expectations of rewards that could affect their participation. An example is agreement to participate only for the sake of the reward that comes after and not necessarily provide quality and honest answers that would contribute to the validity and worthiness of the data gathered.

Data Collection Instruments

The only instruments to be used for this study are the research materials used in the literature review and the guide questions for the semi-structured interviews. These questions are as follows:

  1. What does it mean for a Native American woman like you to grow up in the Native American Indian reservation?
  2. What experiences have led you as a Native American woman who grew up in the reservations to choose to raise your own child/children off the reservations?
  3. What challenges do you face as a woman who grew up in the reservations and are now raising your child/ children off the reservations?
  4. What are the reasons for your decision to raise your child/ children off the reservations?
  5. How do you evaluate your life with your children now that you are living off the reservations?
  6. Do you have anything else to share concerning your situation?

Validity of the Data

The validity of the data gathered would come from the integrity of the participants’ responses and its close parallelism to the research literature. Ensuring qualitative validity is quite different from quantitative studies. In quantitative research, the hypotheses presented at the beginning of the study guides the researcher in determining the construct validity of the data derived from the research process as well as the appropriate methodology to be used (Wainer and Braun,1988). The construct validity is expected to interplay with the data as applied from the test or research process manipulating the identified variables. The data derived may support or reject the construct, and the researcher may use this evidence to elevate the construct to a theory or further hypothesis (Cronbach and Meehl, 1995).

On the other hand, in a qualitative research, the development and presentation of hypotheses, as well as the use of standardized tests that yield measurable results are not practiced. Instead, the research accepts participants’ answers to questions posed by the researcher (Winter 2000; Butt 1992). Winter (2000) argued that participants’ answers to questions posed to them regarding their own experiences are enough as long as they are truthful so they become considered valid (Butt, 1992). “In the case of the human sciences it is the congruence of our text of understanding with the lived reality of persons.” (Eisner & Peshkin, 1990 pp. 97-98). Validity depends on how the interviewees present their own perceptions, emotions, thoughts and experiences in its breadth and depth. It also depends on how tightly they integrate their issues and concerns to the research topic (Butt,1992). The participants’ perspectives provide a vivid picture to the researcher because the participants are considered experts on their own life experiences.

Heron (1988) provides a more formal definition of validity that this study shall take on. It is the coherence of knowledge gained from research from the experiential information given by the interviewees along with the practical knowledge of how one acts in specific situations and contexts.

Trustworthiness supports the argument that the research findings are “worth paying attention to” (Lincoln & Guba 1985, p.290). For a research to be trustworthy, it should have credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability. Credibility refers to the authenticity of the participant and the information he or she provides. It should reflect the truth so that the conceptual interpretation of the data provided is reliable. Transferability is the degree to which the findings of the study can be applicable beyond the limits of the study’s topic. Dependability refers to the quality of the integrated processes of data collection, analysis and the establishment of new theories. Finally, confirmability shows how well the research findings are supported by the data (Lincoln & Guba: 1985).

Analysis of Data

In analyzing the data derived, the interview transcripts should be examined thoroughly for patterns of behavior or other pertinent information and should be appropriately categorized in thematic codes (Bowen, 2005). “Inductive analysis,” Patton (1980) explains, “means that the patterns, themes, and categories of analysis come from the data; they emerge out of the data rather than being imposed on them prior to data collection and analysis” (Patton 1980, p.l06). Bowen’s analysis of data supports Patton’s interpretation of data analysis and in addition, studies and patterns that emerged during the analysis and makes logical associations with the interview questions. She details the process of deriving her research findings as follows:

“At successive stages, themes moved from a low level of abstraction to become major, overarching themes rooted in the concrete evidence provided by the data. These emerging themes, together with a substantive-formal theory of ‘development-focused collaboration’ became the major findings of my study” (Bowen, 2005, p. 216).

The same method of data analysis shall be employed in this research. To supplement the data analysis, data gathered shall be compared to the theoretical framework designed in the literature review. The researcher shall confirm if the theories of Historical Trauma, Systems Theory, Acculturation Theory and Strengths Perspective apply to the lives of the participants. It may also be possible that a new theory can be established based on the common information shared by the participants that have not been discussed in any of the theories already mentioned.

Ethical Considerations

Kvale and Brinkmann (2009) argue that ethical decisions must be made throughout the research process. They point out four ethical rules for research on humans: the informed consent, confidentiality, consequences and the researcher’s role (Kvale & Brinkmann 2009). Informed consent shall be sought from the prospective participants themselves. Confidentiality shall be ensured to them, as some of the information they may share may be too sensitive that revealing their identities may be risky. Consequences of the interview process have also been studied. The safety and security of the participants shall be ensured at all times during the interview process. The researcher’s role is to clearly conduct the interviews as best as she can with utmost sincerity, honesty and kindness. Her role as interviewer of the participants is limited only to her functions in this study. This study shall comply with ethical standards and considerations in conducting research with human participants.

Blaxter et al (2006) state how “ethical research involves getting the informed consent of those you are going to interview, question, observe or take materials from.” (p. 158). Guidelines are given by Robson (2002) who maintains that an informed consent form should contain specific information, such as the nature and purpose of the project, information on confidentiality and anonymity, and a note to participants about being free to withdraw from the study. For the purpose of this piece of enquiry, all of the information highlighted by Robson (2002) as important will be included in a preliminary letter, as well as in a consent form which will be completed before the interview. Also included in the letter will be contact details for the researcher, should participants have any questions before the interview takes place.

During the data collection stage, confidentiality of participants must be respected at all times. (Frey and Mertens-Oishi, 1995). They shall also be informed that they are free to withdraw from their participation any time they feel uncomfortable or their safety and security are threatened with the information they share.

Limitations of the Research

This study is limited by the research questions posed as well as the nature of the participants recruited. Information derived from this research may not necessarily be applicable to the whole population of Native American women living off reservations but they may be suggestive of the conditions experienced by such women. The findings should not be applied to other cultural groups. These limitations should be taken into consideration by anyone reading the study.

Use of Research Data Results

Since marginalization of the Native American population has been established in the literature review, a more detailed examination of the lives of Native American families living outside the Indian reservations is worth doing. Gaining first-hand information from Native American mothers with regards to their current life conditions, child-rearing and the challenges they encounter in their daily lives is an essential step in identifying their needs. Such needs may be communicated to the appropriate agencies and individuals such as legislators, politicians, public administrators, social welfare personnel, etc. as they are in a better position to extend much-needed help to such population. Findings of this study may also be relevant in policy development and decision-making for the causes of Native American women and their children.

Chapter Summary

This chapter has thoroughly discussed the components of the research methods of this qualitative study. It has provided a background on the research process and compared qualitative and quantitative research methods. It has identified that the research methods to be used are Qualitative Content Analysis and Semi-structured interviews. It has also described the research design which indicated the selection of participants, setting and procedure of the research plan. The only data collection instrument to be used is the guide interview questions which were enumerated in this chapter. Being a qualitative study, validity of the data was also justified. Analysis of gathered data from the interviews was fully discussed as well.

The research methods selected for this study are best suited to the research topic on the lived experiences of Native American women raising their children off the reservations. Ethical considerations in conducting this study have been discussed as well as the limitations of the study and the use of the research data to be derived from the interviews with the Native American mother participants.


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