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Cultural Identity Confers Self-Worth

Connecting to others who share an experience of marginality and who engage in mutual support can be empowering to youth and may provide them with the strength and courage to resist oppression and negotiate hardships. A strong cultural identity distinguishes a Native young person from the dominant society and offers him or her a way to positively understand this difference. This understanding can make prejudice and injustice visible, and in so doing, makes their personal experiences of oppression relevant in a larger context, particularly to others in their community.

Providing a basis for collective meaning-making is especially significant for Indigenous peoples who are dealing with historical trauma and on-going colonization (Bjerregaard, 2001; Brave Heart, & DeBruyn, 1998; Napoleon, 1995) in a society that espouses equality. Although sometimes subtle, the almost constant markers of cultural difference and collective loss make the cultural and ethnic aspects of selfhood important to many Indigenous people. Emphasizing the connection between personal and collective hardship can foster an increased sense of cultural affiliation as well as a growing commitment to furthering their tribe’s interests.

A strong sense of cultural identity has been correlated with higher levels of psychological health for Indigenous youth (Kral & Dyck, 1995; McCabe, 2007; Whitbeck, Chen, Hoyt, & Adams, 2004). Having a positive cultural identity is believed to confer feelings of self-worth, self-efficacy, connectedness, and purpose to Indigenous young people (Minore, Boone, Katt, & Kinch, 1991; Tatz, 2001; White, 2000). These attributes have been identified as protective factors for suicide (Borowsky, Ireland, & Resnik, 2001; Felner, Dubois, & Adan, 1991). Chandler and Lalonde’s (1998) groundbreaking research provides further evidence for the importance of cultural identification and action. They documented a clear link between communities’ cultural and political activities, dubbed ‘‘cultural continuity’’, and their rates of suicide.

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ and parents’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally sustaining practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic youth-centered environment that honors the unique values of your students and parents, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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