I just had to be there”: Native College Student Activists and Their Relationships to the #NoDAPL Movement
Adrienne Keene

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Brown University

Primary Discipline

Higher Education
From April 2015 through November 2016 thousands of Native and non-Native water protectors converged on the plains of North Dakota to protect water, land, sacred sites, and tribal sovereignty with the rallying cry of Mni Wiconi (Water is Life). Among those protectors were an unknown number of Indigenous college students, some there for a weekend, others who dropped out to join the movement. This study seeks to share the stories of college student-activists who participated in the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)—on their campuses, digitally, or at the resistance camps—to understand the ways their activism in the largest Indigenous movement of their lifetimes intersected with their motivations and goals for their college work and their relationships to their institutions themselves. I explore the following research questions: How did Native students come to participate in #NoDAPL? How did they make meaning from their varied experiences in the movement? What are their understandings of the outcomes of those experiences in the context of their educations? I utilize qualitative interviews with Native college students from a variety of institutions (Private colleges, public universities, and tribal colleges), as well as online focus groups through an indigenous sharing circle methodology (Kovach, 2009; Tachine, Cabrera, & Yellow Bird, 2017), to construct a Portrait (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis, 1997) of Native college student involvement in #NoDAPL.
About Adrienne Keene
Adrienne Keene is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University. Her research areas include college access, transition, and persistence for American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students, including the role of pre-college access programs in student success. Additionally, she examines representations of Native peoples in popular culture and the ways that Indigenous peoples are using the Internet, social media, and new media to challenge misrepresentations and create new and innovative spaces for art and activism. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Dr. Keene has a deep personal commitment to exploring research methodologies that empower Native communities and privilege Native voices and perspectives, with the ultimate goal of increasing educational outcomes for Native students. She earned her BA from Stanford University in Native American Studies and Cultural Anthropology, and her doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in Culture, Communities, and Education.

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