Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Hubert Campfens

Advisor Role

Dissertation Supervisor


Aboriginal people are increasingly seeking forms of post-secondary education that meet their cultural, political, social and spiritual needs. Universities and colleges have a responsibility to become involved in the decolonization process by taking a proactive stance in relation to the changes which are required to meet these needs. The research described in this dissertation is a bicultural, participatory action project which sought to document the experiences and needs of Aboriginal students at a university and community college in North Bay, Ontario in order to lay the groundwork for new programs and services which might be developed. Research Circles and Individual Interviews were held to gather participants’ stories. The circles and interviews were tape recorded and transcribed and the results shared with participants. In two data analysis circles the participants identified acceptance, sharing, awareness, and support as key categories into which to organize their experiences. The medicine wheel became a useful model for understanding and portraying these experiences and fit with the circular nature of the research process as well as with traditional Native teachings. The research circles became important sources of support and learning in themselves and one of the recommendations that came out of the research was that they should continue to be available for support purposes after the research concluded. This confirmed the empowering potential of the participatory action research process. Experiential analysis provides justification for a dissertation which goes beyond research results to include a discussion of the research process and a personal narrative related to the experience of the primary researcher with the research. Popular Education, Feminist, Aboriginal, Critical Ethnographic and Qualitative research literature also provide theoretical justification for this circular participatory action research project. The participants’ stories and comments are presented verbatim in order to preserve the authenticity of the reporting and to confirm their legitimate role as co-researchers in this participatory project. Their oral testimonies are powerful historical documents that will be important sources of learning for anyone who reads them. The research adds to a growing body of literature that argues that culture and control are intertwined and that institutions of the dominant society such as universities and colleges have an important role to play in the reattainment of a balanced and harmonious relationship between Native and non-native people.

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