LoAnn Nelson

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


Life Circle Tribal College (a pseudonym), as other tribal colleges, claims its purpose for existence is to help increase American Indians' access to affordable and culturally relevant vocational and academic postsecondary education. This study sought to answer the following questions: (1) How did students and staff at Life Circle Tribal College perceive Life Circle Tribal College as fulfilling the cultural portion of its mission? (2) What impact did students and staff feel the culture-based education approach used at Life Circle Tribal College had on students' lives in their educational pursuits at the tribal college, in their current and future relationships in the community in which they live, and in their future education and relationships in mainstream colleges and communities outside the reservation? Participant observations of formal and informal activities, fifteen interviews, and two different surveys were conducted to answer the questions.

Observational results of this study suggested that Life Circle Tribal College attempted to instill values of respect and community in its students through the use of a culture-based environment and approach to education. Results of the interviews and surveys suggested that students and staff appreciated that the opportunity to experience culture-based education was available even if about half of the interviewees did not desire it for themselves. All interviewees felt culture-based education had a direct relationship to the community in encouraging educated American Indians to return to their communities to improve living conditions and preserve the Dakota language. Approximately half of the interviewees felt that successes in mainstream colleges and other relationships off the reservation were more dependent on each individual rather than on having experienced a culture-based education.

The results of this study should lead to ideas for future development of mission statements and course offerings at tribal colleges to ensure that postsecondary education will be culturally relevant to the Dakota and other American Indian students where appropriate and increase students' chances for success in education and throughout life.

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Psychology Commons