Creswell (2013), suggests that Critical Theory (CT) is “concerned with empowering human beings to transcend the constraints placed on them by race, class, and gender” (p. 30). Gall, Gall, and Borg (2009) define critical theory as, “a broad range of methods deigned to uncover and help remedy the negative effects of unequal power relationships that prevail in the global community and in most cultures within it” (p. 406).
CRT and its applications are based on five tenets, which aim to: (1) center the conversation on race, racism, and power and how it intersects with other forms of oppression (e.g., gender, immigration); (2) challenge American educational claims of being objective, meritocratic, and colorblind (Solórzano, 1998; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995); (3) advance social justice for the oppressed (Bell, 1987); (4) recognize the experiential knowledge of people of color as it is crucial to understanding the effects and manifestations of racism (Delgado, 1989; Williams, 1997); and (5) employ an interdisciplinary approach that broadens our research scope.
Critical theory can be further narrowed into Critical Race Theory (CRT). Creswell (2013) suggests that CRT “focuses theoretical attentions on race and how racism is deeply embedded within the framework of American society” (p. 31). Creswell believes the three goals of CRT research as being to “present stories about discrimination from the perspective of people of color,” “for the eradication of racial subjugation while simultaneously recognizing that race is a social construct,” and “other areas of difference, such as gender, class, and any inequities experienced by individuals” (Creswell, 2013, p. 32).
Brayboy (2005) recognized Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a legitimate framework from which to examine issues of race but believed CRT was limited in its ability to address the needs of Indigenous populations because it did not address the historical issues inherent within the American Indian experience. Brayboy developed TribalCrit to provide an analytical lens that is a more “culturally nuanced way of examining the lives and experiences of tribal peoples since contact with Europeans over 500 years ago” (Brayboy, 2005, p. 430). TribalCrit has nine tenets that are specific to the experiences of American Indians.
A fundamental difference between CRT and TribalCrit is the existence of colonization. The basic premise of CRT is that racism is endemic in society. In contrast, the first tenet of TribalCrit is that colonization is endemic in society (Brayboy, 2005). Colonization was defined as a historical and systemic effort to colonize or civilize American Indians to be “more like those who hold power in the dominant society” (Brayboy, 2005, p. 430). The concept of decolonization is highlighted by Smith (1999) who calls for the decolonization of methodologies targeting American Indians.
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