Career Counseling among Indigenous Peoples

  • Glenn C. KharkongorEmail author
  • Sandra Albert
Part of the International and Cultural Psychology book series (ICUP)


Indigenous people are a widely diverse group, living in about 70 countries and representing about 5 % of the world’s population. Being close to nature and community is integral to the indigenous worldview, and basic to their belief systems and attitudes. With influences from dominant societies, globalization, and their own continuing evolution, indigenous peoples are a heterogeneous group, with individuals and communities living at various points in the continuum between the traditional ways of life and the modern.

Career counseling for indigenous youth is a recent trend, part of the contemporary developments in multicultural psychology. Indigenous youth appear to favor vocational training over university study. They often lack a well-informed or structured career plan, and are guided by altruistic intentions rather than financial rewards.

In India, there are about 98 million indigenous people, about one-fourth of the world total. There are protective provisions in the Constitution of India, but the tribals, as indigenous people in India are known, have higher poverty and lower health and education indices than the rest of the country. Because of stereotyping, they are considered to have lower aspirations and effort, but indigenous youth clearly have less information about careers and fewer opportunities.

A case study from Meghalaya, a predominantly tribal state in Northeast India, is presented. Ten indigenous career counselors shared their experiences in an exploratory survey and focus group discussion. They observed that indigenous youth seemed to have a relaxed approach to life, were less competitive, and less interested in a career. A commonly expressed desire was to be close to the family and to help the family. This was especially true of girls in matrilineal and matrilocal tribes, who are future caretakers of family and property. Parental influence in determining future careers was minimal, sibling and peer influences being stronger. Girls seemed to value education more, and enroll in higher numbers in school, but boys predominate in higher secondary and higher education, being able to travel farther from home. Urban youth were better informed and made independent choices, while rural youth appeared to work harder when presented with opportunities.

The counselors in Meghalaya faced certain ethical dilemmas. They felt inadequately trained to present career concepts in local dialects that lacked appropriate terminology. So tests and questionnaires were difficult to administer, and this raises questions of validity. Students often wanted prescriptive solutions, unable to decide on their own about career choices. Counselors felt reluctant to recommend traditional occupations, being unsure about whether these careers were viable options.

In the counseling of indigenous clients, it is important to understand the indigenous worldview and to use a holistic approach that considers family and community. Youth are more comfortable in small-group sessions rather than in individual counseling. Instead of culture-bound tests, visuals and narratives with cultural motifs are recommended. Traditional occupations that are close to nature and exemplify the dignity of labor should be included in the discussion. A neighborhood setting, convenient for family and community elders to also attend, facilitates the wider dissemination of information and sense of participation.


Indigenous People Focus Group Discussion Indigenous Community International Labour Organization Career Guidance 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Sandra Albert was supported by a Wellcome Trust capacity-strengthening grant awarded to the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and a consortium of UK universities. We thank Ms. Darisuk Kharlyngdoh and Ms. Bobylin Nadon, Research Assistants, PHFI, and all the participants of the focus group discussion for their contributions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Martin Luther Christian UniversityShillongIndia
  2. 2.Indian Institute of Public HealthShillongIndia

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