Middle-Class Native American Adolescents: Immersion Project

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Native Americans are regarded as another ethnic minority in the USA despite the fact that those people’s ancestors were born in this land. The life of these people has received significant attention, and much is known about the life on an Indian reservation. People living in such communities face major social issues including unemployment, discrimination, substance abuse, and so on (Patterson-Silver Wolf, Welte, Barnes, Tidwell, & Spicer, 2014).

At that, the life of Native Americans in the urban setting is not very much different as people still face similar issues (Moon, Blakey, Boyas, Horton, & Kim, 2014). Nevertheless, many American Indians assimilated and became a part of the American middle class. Little is known whether Native American adolescents living in well-off neighborhoods still see themselves as a part of the Indian community. This brief study focuses on a group of middle-class American Indian teenagers and their views on their ethnicity and cultural background.

The Description of the Group

Four females and two males aged between 17 and 19 years old took part in the study. The adolescents were descendants from different Indian tribes including Mohawk, Cherokee, Chiricahua, and Choctaw. The study consisted of two parts: observation and focus group discussion. The observation was conducted in a mall during three hours. The participants were speaking English with occasional use of words in other languages.

The appearance of the adolescents was quite remarkable as the female participants had some accessories that revealed their cultural heritage. The members of the group seemed to have close relationships. Their body language was also a sign of close and trustful relationships. They did not keep distance but gave hugs, tapping each other on the shoulder, and so on. They laughed and made jokes about each other. They also knew about each other’s habits and preferences. When they ordered food, they mentioned the preferred items of each other.

The second part of the study involved a focus group discussion. The group meeting was conducted in a local park where the groups spent a lot of free time. This place was chosen to make the participants feel more confident and create the necessary atmosphere. The discussion involved such topics as religious beliefs, values orientation, expectations, roles, views on their ethnicity, as well as their experiences associated with their ethnicity. As for the participants’ religious beliefs, they turned out to be baptized into Christianity. They shared major Christian values and celebrated such holidays as Christmas. However, they also mentioned their desire to learn more about their ancestors’ festivals and rituals and take part in them.

The discussion of the ethnicity was quite eye-opening, the adolescents noted that they were proud of being Native Americans and were ready to reveal and emphasize their cultural heritage. All of them also mentioned their parents’ negative attitude towards some aspects of their ethnicity (mainly, their life in reservations as well as discrimination they faced outside them). A half of the participants admitted that they abused alcohol at certain points of their lives.

One of these teenagers admitted smoking marijuana for quite a long period of time. The participants named peer pressure as the primary cause of such unhealthy behaviors. At that, all of the participants mentioned that one or both of their parents had had a long history of substance abuse due to such issues as unemployment, discrimination, the lack of opportunities, and peer pressure.

The adolescents were optimistic about their future in the American society. Their families are quite well-off, so they have access to higher education, which can help them land good jobs. At the same time, the teenagers were willing to learn more about their cultural heritage and find some social links with people of the same descent. The participants used different methods to achieve this goal including visits to reservations, taking courses in Native American studies, trying to communicate with relatives or people from the community.

The participants reported that they had mixed feelings associated with those experiences as they see the discrimination and social issues Native Americans had to face, which made them feel sad. The participants also noted that they had taken part in various events related to the Native American culture, which made them feel more complete.



As has been mentioned above, the observation was carried out in a local mall. The place was chosen as it is the site where the participants spend a lot of their time and feel relaxed there. One of the important insights the observation provided was the fact that the participants were completely assimilated into the mainstream society. Their appearance and behavior were similar to their peers within the majority group.

Friese, Grube, and Seninger (2015) claim that the environment is central to the development of various behavioral patterns in adolescents of different cultural backgrounds. Underprivileged neighborhoods where Native Americans often dwell contribute to the development of various risky health behaviors. The participants of this study lived in a well-off community, which led to the young people’s easy assimilation.

The observation helped me understand the target population better. At this point, it is vital to note that the sample is very small and the findings can hardly be generalizable. At that, the observation still provided some insights that can be further investigated. As to the major insight, it is clear that Native Americans can pertain to different socioeconomic groups, which has a considerable impact on the level of their assimilation, their behavioral patterns, their expectations, and so on. Importantly, teenagers are quite disconnected from their cultural heritage due to their parents’ negative experiences. Nevertheless, Indian American adolescents feel the need to become a part of their cultural heritage.


A focus group discussion was the chosen method as I wanted to learn about contexts and discourses rather than opinions of individuals. I wanted to make the participants share their experiences during the discussion to reveal different facets and aspects of the issue. This goal could not be achieved with the help of interviews as the participants would focus on the aspects they consider relevant. Whereas the observation provided insights into the participants’ behavior, the focus group discussion unveiled their opinions, concerns, hopes, dreams, etc. The dialogue helped me receive a deeper understanding of the target population.

The reasons for their desire to know more about their ancestors and their cultural heritage is partly due to their search of identity, which is common for their age. At that, the participants also noted that their parents’ brief accounts concerning their life within the Native American community made the participants more interested in their culture. It is noteworthy that the participants’ parents did not feel negative about their ethnicity or cultural identity and tried to make their children respectful of their heritage.

Kulis, Ayers, and Baker (2014) also report about the beneficial influence of parental involvement on adolescents’ views on their ethnicity as well as their social behavior. I now can see that young Native Americans, coming from well-off families, do not exhibit anti-social behavior although many of these people could have some issues associated with addictions or substance use in the past. Moon et al. (2014) note that peer pressure is one of the major factors affecting adolescent Native Americans’ choices associate with substance use. The focus group discussion revealed the patterns consistent with this study. The participants also reported the power of peers over their choices.

Finally, the participants did not face challenges related to discrimination or marginalization. This finding is consistent with the existing research. Jones and Galliher (2015) state that Native American teenagers may face some instances of discrimination, but these experiences do not affect the behavior of the youth.

Reaction and Critical Analysis of the Experience

The present research was a valuable experience that helped me gain insights into the life of young Native Americans living in the urban settings. The hardships and opportunities of American Indians living in reservations are quite well-research while the experiences of well-off Native American teenagers also need attention. It turns out that the target population is well-assimilated and looks and behaves in the same way as their white peers do.

The results of the research made me see the population quite differently. Previously, I focused on discriminatory practices and marginalization of American Indians. However, the observation and discussion helped me understand that the target population was not as homogenous as I had expected. The socio-economic status of people affects the life orientation as underprivileged groups tend to engage in anti-social behaviors while their well-off peers start paying more attention to the cultural aspect of their lives and their identities.

Moreover, the observation made me reflect on such issues as assimilation and ethnic background. It is apparent that many ethnic groups behave and look just like their mainstream peers. At the same time, these features can be misleading as people may feel a close connection with their ethnic community and cultural heritage. I started thinking about the line between assimilation and the loss of the cultural background or even identity. The participants looked quite disconnected from their cultural roots while their parents’ connection was quite negative. Notably, negative parental experiences were associated with living conditions rather than the cultural peculiarities. In simple words, parents did not want to visit reservations or other representatives of their family. They told their children about their background and seemed to encourage their quest for their ethnic connectedness.

Furthermore, the study helped me better understand myself. I understood that I also might feel quite disconnected from my cultural heritage at times although my behavior is not different from the rest of my peers. The participants’ chase for their cultural background inspired me to learn about my people’s past as well.

The young people’s search for themselves made me contemplate on the matter as well. Clearly, I thought about the cases, as well as the nature, of discrimination in the American society. It is clear that the country’s past shapes the existing patterns and practices (Campbell, 2016). White dominance is still persistent although the society has changed considerably. It seems that assimilation is the most effective solution to the problem. Representatives of minority groups should prove that they are similar to the majority to enjoy the benefits of being a part of the mainstream culture.

Apart from ideas and thoughts related to cultures, the research was a valuable scholarly experience for me. I understood the benefits and limitations of such methods as observations and focus group discussions. This experience made me a more experienced researcher. I also acknowledged the benefits of the use of several data collection methods. I believe a mix of tools can help the researcher to get a deeper understanding of the target group.


On balance, it is necessary to note that the observation and the focus group discussions unveiled some peculiarities of middle-class Native American adolescents. The target population is assimilated into the mainstream culture as their behavior and appearance are not very different from the rest of the people. At the same time, the discussion revealed these young people’s views on their ethnicity. The participants are now trying to learn more about their culture and experience it.

This research was quite an eye-opening experience for me. I acknowledged the heterogeneity of the target population. The discussion also made me reflect on my own cultural identity and the difference between assimilation and a complete loss of the self. The participants’ ideas and search for their cultural heritage inspired me to learn about ethnic and cultural aspects of my identity. Finally, the experience helped me gain some skills necessary for the implementation of qualitative studies. I now believe that a mix of research tools can help researchers obtain more details to come up with relevant findings and conclusions.


Campbell, A. F. (2016). How America’s past shapes Native Americans’ present. The Atlantic. Web.

Friese, B., Grube, J., & Seninger, S. (2015). Drinking among Native American and White youths: The role of perceived neighborhood and school environment. Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 14(3), 287-307.

Jones, M. L., & Galliher, R. V. (2015). Daily racial microaggressions and ethnic identification among Native American young adults. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21(1), 1-9.

Kulis, S., Ayers, S., & Baker, T. (2014). Parenting in 2 worlds: Pilot results from a culturally adapted parenting program for urban American Indians. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 36(1), 65-70.

Moon, S., Blakey, J., Boyas, J., Horton, K., & Kim, Y. (2014). The influence of parental, peer, and school factors on marijuana use among Native American adolescents. Journal of Social Service Research, 40(2), 147-159.

Patterson-Silver Wolf, D., Welte, J., Barnes, G., Tidwell, M., & Spicer, P. (2014). Sociocultural influences on gambling and alcohol use among Native Americans in the United States. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31(4), 1387-1404.

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