Mental Health and Native American Identity in the Great Lakes Region: A Semi-Decolonized, Mixed Methods Approach

Mon, May 15, 2023 10:00 AM at 195 Crescent Road, room 119

Madeline Nash Dissertation Proposal Defense will take place 10 a.m. May 15 in the Sociology South conference room,

195 Crescent Rd, room 119. Parking and entrance is on the east side of the building only.

Mental Health and Native American Identity in the Great Lakes Region: A Semi-Decolonized, Mixed Methods Approach


While a growing literature addresses mental health on Indigenous nations/tribes, it rarely examines those who identify as Native American but do not have tribal membership. This dissertation will examine the relationships between mental health, Native American/Indigenous identity, and tribal membership in the Great Lakes region, using a semi-decolonized, mixed methods approach.  First, the dissertation will analyze BRFSS data to shed light on mental health outcomes of the American Indian/Alaskan Native (AIAN) population in the Great Lakes region. Second, the dissertation will involve analysis of interviews conducted with self-identified Indigenous/AIAN people living in the Great Lakes region on how tribal enrollment status (or lack there-of) affects identity and mental health.

The first part of the dissertation will use multivariate analysis to compare mental health measures of those who identify as AIAN using 5 years of BRFSS data (2015-19) by Indian Health Service (IHS) region. Additionally, using BRFSS data allows for people who self-identify as AIAN regardless of multi-racial background or tribal enrollment status to be included in the analysis.  Studies have shown that disease burden/outcomes such as cancer and diabetes vary by region for the AIAN population. However, not much work has been done to compare regions in terms of mental health outcomes. The results will focus on the Great Lakes region and provide a complementary study to the in-depth interviews being conducted. 

The second part of the research will involve a qualitative study that examines the relationships between identity, mental health and tribal enrollment through interviews conducted with tribal members, descendants, people unable to enroll in a tribe, and, lastly, people who have been disenrolled from their tribes. Interview questions are centered around identity, enrollment status, experiences with Indigenous communities, cultural/political involvement, experiences with racism, mental health, substance use, and historical trauma.


This research will give voice to Native American individuals and their experiences of being Indigenous and how it affects their mental health, regardless of enrollment status. Additionally, studies and surveys often focus on reservation communities or those who identify as AIAN only, leaving out people who may be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe who have a multi-racial background. This research will fill these gaps and also contribute to literature pertaining to Indigenous stress/stressors.

Committee is:

Stephen Gasteyer (chair)

Cathy Liu

Ning Hsieh

Heather Howard-Bobiwash (Anthropology)