Academic journal article Adult Learning

Transformative Autoethnography: An Examination of Cultural Identity and Its Implications for Learners

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Transformative Autoethnography: An Examination of Cultural Identity and Its Implications for Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract: The cultural experiences of minority learners are often omitted from the formal curriculum leading to exclusion and a sense of cultural loss. In this study, the researcher's lived experience serves as the basis to develop a novel research strategy: transformative autoethnography. The researcher uses the method of autoethnography to more deeply understand his roles as Chickasaw and adult educator, amplified by his unique role as the developer of a tribal learning community situated at a research university. This immersive experience serves as the context for self-reflection, which includes an educational history marred by my perceptions of Whiteness and lack of cultural connectedness. Transformative learning theory serves as the theoretical framework by which the author comes to appreciate the intersection of culture, identity, and meaning, the research context is triangulated with the experiences of other Chickasaws, including learning community participants, providing an autoethnography steeped in phenomenological thought. This credible qualitative account serves as a roadmap for the educational journeys of Native Americans and other minority adult learners and the educators, advisors, and program developers who strive to support them.

Keywords: autoethnography, transformative learning, Native American, cultural identity, Chickasaw


Prologue: That Day I vividly recall traveling with my parents to Ada, Oklahoma, during my senior year of high school. As a member of the Chickasaw Nation, the 13th largest federally recognized Native American tribe, I was attending a reception dinner for Chickasaw high school scholarship recipients. The apprehension I felt was palpable--quivering voice and body shaking. See, you must understand I don't look Indian. Would I be expected to make a speech? Ultimately, would I he too White? As I continued to imagine what too White might look like, I began to reflect on issues larger than just myself. Did other Indian teenagers who did not grow-up as real Indians feel disconnected from their ancestry like me?

With this pressure looming, I unexpectedly became angry with my parents. They should have incorporated more Native American heritage in my upbringing! Throughout my childhood, I felt like a White kid who was told he was Chickasaw. I had to wrestle with what that meant. For instance, do I tell others I am Indian or do I keep it to myself? This typically resulted in me consciously weighing the range of possible responses that such a proclamation could illicit: "You're White, you don't look Chickasaw; did Chickasaws live in teepees?" or "Everyone in Oklahoma says they are Indian." And, here I was trapped in a car on a collision course to confront years of identity avoidance.

Although I could not articulate the cultural constructs of marginalization and identity at the time, I know now that I was enduring an educational moment in the backseat: having to confront the significance in my own life of my Native American ancestry. Years later, I still find it difficult to sort through the host of emotions that flowed through me: guilt, shame, and, finally, a surprising sense of acceptance granted by Chickasaw elders at the reception. To this day, I still fluctuate between these emotions, and several others, when grappling with my identity as a Chickasaw who does not look phenotypically Native American.

When experiences resonate within us, we often yearn to understand their significance. Mezirow and Associates (2000) maintain transformative learning is a process of continual growth. Accordingly, the detailed account of That Day serves to illustrate cultural miseducation and my life-long experience to come to terms with my identity as a Chickasaw. According to Martin (2002), cultural miseducation occurs "when cultural liabilities overburden future generations; or, alternatively, valuable portions of a culture's wealth are not passed down" (p. …

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