A qualitative study of the meaning of work and workplace experiences among Native Americans in upstate New York

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Business Administration


Elizabeth C. Wesman


Management, Minority & ethnic groups, Sociology

Subject Categories



Despite the generally poor economic conditions they experience, little research has attempted to examine Native Americans in the workplace. Native Americans in the northeastern United States have been particularly ignored. This study attempts to rectify these deficiencies. In-depth interviews were conducted with ten Native Americans in upstate New York in an effort to more fully understand the meanings they attach to work and to workplace experiences.

A qualitative research approach was used. The primary theoretical orientation of the study is symbolic interaction: the participants interpret their experiences on the basis of their interactions with others and act on those interpretations. Understanding what those interpretations are and how they are developed is important to this study. Data analysis followed a grounded theory approach.

Four important findings emerge within this study. The first of these findings is the identification of a work ethic that is based upon a sense of personal ethics. The participants possess a strong work ethic in which work effort reflects a perceived responsibility to the employer. The second finding emphasizes the importance of money to the participants and the multiple roles money plays. The third finding focuses on the factors which influence the perceptions of co-workers and superiors (owners/managers) in the workplace. The last finding identifies a generalized lack of perceived discrimination in the workplace. Those participants who perceive discrimination become more sensitive to its cues.

The most important variables influencing the meanings assigned by the participants are first, a set of values that are considered common among Native Americans and, second, the participants' early experiences with economic deprivation.


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