International Indigenous Policy Journal (Jan 2017)

Navajo Nation Brain Drain: An Exploration of Returning College Graduates’ Perspectives

  • Quintina Ava Bearchief-Adolpho,
  • Aaron P. Jackson,
  • Steven A. Smith,
  • Moroni T. Benally

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8, no. 1


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American Indian tribes face the phenomenon known across the world as the brain drain. They invest millions of dollars in educating their members only to have little return on their investment. Many nation members leave reservations to get postsecondary education but never return. Those who get education off the reservation and choose to return are the exception to this rule. Although there is an abundance of literature regarding brain drain across the world, there has been little research done with American Indians. In order to begin to understand the brain drain phenomenon, this study analyzed unstructured qualitative interviews with 17 Navajo Nation members who left their reservation, obtained a degree, and returned to work on the reservation. Themes resulting from the hermeneutic analysis of transcribed interviews were (a) Family Support, (b) Community, (c) Cultural Identity, (d) the Simple Life, (e) Reservation Economy, and (f) Commitment to the Reservation. The analysis found that constant, lengthy, and meaningful relationships were motivating factors in drawing participants back to contribute to their reservations. Further study is needed to understand how communities and tribes can ensure that these relationships are built and maintained.