Ethnic identity and aspirations among rural Alaska youth

Carole L. Seyfrit, Old Dominion University
Lawrence C. Hamilton, University of New Hampshire
Cynthia M. Duncan, University of New Hampshire
Jody Grimes, University of New Hampshire - Main Campus


The villages of rural Alaska comprise one of the most exceptional, yet least visible, sociocultural environments in the United States They are geographically remote, and set off from the mainstream also by their unique Eskimo, Indian or Aleut cultures. At the same time many economic, legal and cultural connections pull these villages toward the dominant U.S. society, impelling continual and rapid social change. Our research focuses on adolescents growing up in this culturally complex and changing environment. We employ survey data from adolescents in 29 rural schools to explore relationships between ethnic identity and students' expectations about moving away or attending college. Many students describe their ethnic identity as mixed, both Native and non-Native. On some key variables, the responses of mixed-identity students fall between those of Natives and non-Natives, supporting a theoretical conception of ethnicity as a matter of degree rather than category. Migration and college expectations vary with ethnic identity, but the college expectations/identity relationship fades when we adjust for other variables. Ethnicity affects expectations for the most part indirectly, through "cultural tool kit" variables including family role models and support. Gender differences in expectations, on the other hand, remain substantial even after adjusting for other variables.