Search
  • IINII

Cultural Masking Fortifies Ethnic Identity

Huffman’s (2001) metaphor of “cultural masks” alludes to the balancing First Nations students must endure in the negotiation through mainstream education. “Cultural mask[ing] is the process by which a person comes to construct a personal ethnic identity. It also provides a manner in which an individual uses and ultimately projects that ethnic identity” (p. 5). The four cultural masks (assimilated, marginalized, estranged, and transcultured) can be considered continuums of experiences. The assimilated mask refers to an Aboriginal person who is “assimilated” into mainstream society and has the same valued habitus and capital. This particular mask does well in negotiating main- stream education because values are not in conflict. For the marginalized mask, this individual while semi-assimilated still maintains strong Indigenous-valued forms of capital and, therefore, has some challenges in negotiating a system that does not value the capital they bring to the institution. This alienation is even more evident in the estranged student. The estranged student has strong Indigenous capital and strong resistance to any assimilation efforts of mainstream education (Huffman, 2001). This particular student often ends up withdrawing from mainstream institutions. As cited by Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. J. College Student Retention, Vol. 10(3) 339-360.


It is also important to consider Huffman’s models’ applicability to an Indigenous student in an institution (i.e., tribal college) that was based on Indigenous epistemology and ontology and supports the student’s Indigenous- valued capital. The transcultured student has strong connections to his/her Indigenous capital and uses it as a social anchor to negotiate his/her way through mainstream education. This later mask parallels Tierney and Jun’s (2001) notion of cultural integrity to be discussed later in this article. As cited by Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. J. College Student Retention, Vol. 10(3) 339-360.


Most Aboriginal students encounter some form of initial alienation when they attend a university (Huffman, 2001). The range of the experiences of an Aboriginal student are best understood in terms of his/her emotional, intellectual, physical, and cultural encounters within the institution. Huffman (2001) did not present a mask for the student who has been disenfranchised from their Aboriginal heritage. The mask of “decolonized” may be appropriate for these students who reclaim and reaffirm their Aboriginal identity. Understanding the range and diversity of educational experiences these students might have is critical in any model developed for Aboriginal persistence. As cited by Pidgeon, M. (2008). Pushing against the margins: indigenous theorizing of “success” and retention in higher education. J. College Student Retention, Vol. 10(3) 339-360.


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. IINII has extensive experience in building and using an Indigenous research paradigm.


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 www.iinii.org, or contact us at iinii@iinii.org or 1800-507-2502.



4 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All