Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Kinesiology and Sport Studies

Major Professor

Robin Hardin

Committee Members

Steven Waller, Adam Love, Erin Whiteside, Nicholas Geidner


Giving back is a crucial part of Native American culture (Kidwell, 1990), and can be a motivator for youth to leave their Native communities to obtain an education (Reyes, 2016). There is logical connection between giving back and Native American athletics as sport can be a catalyst for social capital, but it has only briefly been studied in this context among the Native American community (Ali-Christie, 2013). The dominant narratives of Native Americans are as peoples of the past or individuals facing insurmountable odds and destined to be another statistic of ill-health and loss.The purpose of this dissertation is to better understand giving back amongst Native American athletes and to produce a counter-narrative to the deficit perspective by highlighting the voices of three successful Native American athletes using documentary film as a research medium. TribalCrit framed this research because of its emphasis on the importance of the Native American experience and storytelling. Public and visual sociology are also important to this work because of the need to showcase these findings in a way that is more accessible to the larger public and provide representation for Native people.Several storylines were developed based on the comprehensive data collection alongside three Native American athletes. The storylines were: (a) Sports are Family, (b) Sport is a Vehicle, (c) Giving Back is Greater Than Sport, (d) Giving Back is Gratitude, and (e) Role Model Role. On the surface, sport appeared to be everything to these athletes but ultimately what mattered the most to them was giving back to their community. These findings can help us better understand the dynamics of the Native community beyond the grim statistics linking Natives to alcohol abuse, drug problems, diabetes and other health issues. This work can also provide the community with personal stories of success and ensure the continuation of the circle of giving back.

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