Indigenous Knowledge Realized: Understanding the Role of Service Learning at the Intersection of Being a Mentor and a College-Going American Indian

Christine A. Nelson, Natalie R. Youngbull


The article explores the experiences of 13 undergraduate American Indian college students who served as mentors through a service-learning course while attending a 4-year, predominantly White institution (PWI). This chapter elucidates how serving as a mentor allowed participants to draw on three culturally-relevant persistence factors in higher education: relationship, community, and power. Previous research demonstrates that service learning actively involves college students and encourages them to build a connection and a sense of commitment to the community (Lee & Espino, 2011; Rhoads, 1998). Through a Tribal Critical Race Theory lens, the purpose and function of service learning is deconstructed and redefined to fit the needs of North American Indigenous college students. This article reveals that Indigenous undergraduate students tapped into their own supply of Indigenous knowledge in relating their mentoring experience to building meaningful relationships, to being a positive influence in tribal communities, and to recognizing that service is a cyclical power that positively impacts their collective role in society. The article details how relationship, community, and power from Indigenous perspectives are sources of persistence for American Indian students and how social justice-based, service-learning courses provide safe spaces for students to realize their Indigenous knowledge while attending PWIs.

Keywords: American Indian college student; service learning; Indigenous knowledge>


American Indian college student; service learning; Indigenous knowledge

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