EC&I 832

Culturally Responsive Digital Identity

This week, I am going to explore a topic that I find difficult to grasp and headache-causing: my digital identity in an Indigenous context. In this blog post, I am going to attempt to explore the intersectionality of my Indigenous digital identity and strategies for a digital identity that is culturally responsive to place.

I was taught I was culturally responsive to place from a young age. Typically, for Indigenous peoples, this means that their identity is deeply rooted in their traditional land, community, and culture. We are responsible for our epistemology, places of knowing, and remembering what is valuable about life vs. living and knowledge vs. knowing. However, as the daughter of an RCMP member, I frequently moved growing up and often found it difficult to connect my identity to one place. Therefore, my experiences and the various cultures I encountered formed my identity. My father noted that instead of being culturally responsive to just one place, I became culturally responsive to all Indigenous peoples and communities I have met, lived with, worked with, and am connected to. But what does this mean in terms of digital identity? How can my digital identity be culturally responsive and grounded in a borderless digital world?

Maybe my digital identity, in an Indigenous context, is not just a username and profile picture but an extension of my cultural identity, community ties, and relationship to land. My digital identity would then be holistic, multifaceted, and would go beyond the superficial elements of identity. Using this notion of digital identity, I am going to apply it to the concepts of digital sovereignty, connection to land, and community.

Digital Sovereignty 

I could not explore the concept of my Indigenous digital identity without discussing digital sovereignty. Just as Indigenous peoples fight for self-determination in the physical world, they are now navigating this fight in the digital world. Indigenous peoples are actively engaging with the digital world to ensure that their stories are told in their own voices, rather than being misrepresented or appropriated. Indigenous-led initiatives and platforms, like the Indigenous International Speakers Bureau, are emerging that give control over digital narratives back to Indigenous peoples. This control over digital narratives is crucial for maintaining and protecting the authenticity of Indigenous identity and culture.

All of this sounds great, but how do I apply the concept of digital sovereignty to my digital identity and the social media platforms that I use? Well, personally, I think it starts with authentic representation. By choosing to present an authentic and accurate portrayal of my culture, identity, and personal experiences I have the power to control how they are depicted and ensure that their representation is culturally responsive to place. As well, social media platforms provide an opportunity for people to tell their stories. My digital sovereignty on X, formerly Twitter, might include having the autonomy to frame and explore my own experiences, challenges, and successes through posts. In addition, the privacy and security settings throughout social media applications can allow for my digital sovereignty to be asserted. By changing settings, I can control who can use, share, and credit my content. This ensures that my work is properly attributed and that my data is not exploited for commercial or unethical purposes. By practicing digital sovereignty, I can create a digital identity that maintains the integrity of my identity and culture while engaging with a global audience.

Land & Connection in The Digital World

My identity is intrinsically linked to land. In the physical world, this would include places like Port Alberni, Cold Lake, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Bilijk First Nation. So, how can I be culturally responsive to place instead of drifting through cyber-space? Since I never lived on my reserve, I often felt a lack of connection to the people, land, and culture. Prior to Facebook, the only community updates that I received were through the mail, so it was near-impossible for me to connect with other community members. However, with the emergence of Facebook, a new community was created. This group allowed me to interact with other community members, receive important updates, and, most importantly, engage with community videos and photographs that depicted the land. Through these connections, I found a way to bridge the gap between my physical and digital identity and strengthen my ties to my cultural and geographical roots.

Alright, but how can I translate my concept of land and my connection to it in the digital world? Since social media platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are primarily visual platforms, they can be used for visual storytelling and location-based posts. By geotagging posts, I can tie my content to specific locations and not only share the beauty of a location, but also assert it’s presence and significance. This would also create a historic visual timeline for that place, where changes to the landscape can be viewed and documented. More recently, my First Nation community began to explore virtual reality (VR) platforms in an effort to document historic land and culturally significant places. Although you cannot document the feeling of the wind or the intricacies of nature, these digital tools provide a unique opportunity to capture the essence of my connection to the land in new and meaningful ways and share it with others.

Online Communities

In Indigenous worldview, community plays a central role in shaping identity. This means that identity is not individualistic in nature because it relies on connections between family, friends, and communities. So, if I apply this concept, digital identity is then part of a broader collective that can be strengthened by building and participating in online communities. This means that social media platforms, web forums, and virtual gatherings become spaces that allow Indigenous peoples to connect with one another, share experiences, and collectively advocate.

As I previously mentioned, I felt a lack of connection to my culture and community due to the vast geographic distance. I already mentioned how beneficial my community’s Facebook page was to my digital identity, so I want to discuss another online community I am a part of. Several years ago, when I was in my undergraduate studies, I had the opportunity to learn Wolastoqey Latuwewakon, my traditional language. However, as any student will tell you, it is near-impossible to retain and maintain language when there are no opportunities to converse with others who speak the same language. Unfortunately (or fortunately), there are very few Wolastoqewiyik people in Saskatchewan. Therefore, in order to practice and converse with other speakers of Wolastoqey Latuwewakon, I turned to online communities. Through these online networks, I found a sense of belonging that transcended geographical barriers, made meaningful connections with fellow speakers, and  strengthened my ties to my culture and community. Altogether, these online communities played a pivotal role in shaping my digital identity.

Questions to Ponder

There is not a lot of research about digital identity in an Indigenous context, so as I explore this topic it would be great to have your input on some of the questions that I pondered throughout my process.

  1. How do you define your digital identity in the context of your cultural background?
  2. How has the digital world allowed you to strengthen your connection to land, culture, and community?
  3. Do you believe a holistic, multifaceted digital identity is a more authentic representation of who we are and how do we convey that in the digital world?


  • Jordan Halkyard

    As someone from a settler background, it is pretty easy to put my cultural background in the context of digital communities. I was thinking about this earlier this week, and most digital spaces were made by people like me, and I’m pretty sure they only had people like me in mind when they made it. I just think about how Facebook was initially made for Harvard students to sit and talk about other Harvard students. That is a pretty select group of society to want to connect with.
    Your post did a good job of showing how these online spaces allow for connection among people who otherwise would be totally isolated from each other. It was very inspiring to hear about how you were able to connect with other Wolastoqey people so you could learn more about your language. Routinely, we can think about all of the negative aspects of online interactions, so it was heartening to hear about a more positive experience for someone online.
    But, it would be nice if there could be more culturally responsive design and thought put into the creation of online spaces. To do this, there needs to be changes made to the people that are in charge of the creation of these digital tools we use. For context, I had a relative who used to work in the technology field, and lets just say it wasn’t necessarily the most diverse field. She was usually the only woman in places that she worked, and there were no people of colour around. If digital spaces want to reflect the communities they serve, they need to take into account the wide range of experience for the people who use their tools and try to accommodate each of these groups. This will allow people to create digital spaces where people can feel more free to express themselves authentically online without fear of the harassment that has happened in the past.

    • Chantal Stenger

      Hi Jordan,

      I agree that in order for digital spaces to be culturally responsive they must reflect the people within those spaces. Thankfully, there are lots of new Indigenous-led initiatives within the tech realm that focus on empowering Indigenous creators. A couple of my colleagues participated in the Indigenous Matriarchs 4 (IM4) Lab recently and built virtual reality worlds using UnReal Engine. It really highlighted the shifting mindsets in Canada’s tech sector and the opportunities that exist for stakeholders to voice their perspectives.

  • Matthew

    I think one of the challenges for me connecting my cultural identity to my digital identity is that my cultural identity is not well established. My grandparents came to Canada from Romania. They never shared cultural practices with us, and although they did speak their language to each other, they never taught us any words or phrases. My mother said they didn’t have great experiences growing up and wanted to move on from their past lives. As was pointed out in one of our earlier classes, if you don’t define who you are, someone else will do it for you. As such I adopted a western Canadian identity that was largely shaped through advertisements, media, and the public education system. Without something to contrast it to I largely accepted it. In retrospect it is no wonder that so many colonial ideas were accepted at face value (school taught and reinforced it – so it must be correct). This lack of direction has allowed my digital identity to be shaped and guided as well. With no cultural touchstone to come back to I mainly did what other people did – post pictures of vacations, change my profile picture whenever everyone else did, etc. It really speaks to the dangers of not being engaged and taking ownership of your own story (which is difficult if you don’t even know what it is).

    • Chantal Stenger

      Hi Matthew,

      I really liked your use of the term cultural touchstone to describe the lack of direction and connection you feel in the digital world. I think we all stumble as we decipher our actual identities from the prescribed identities placed upon us by mainstream society.

  • RoxAnne Jordan

    I love this post! I hope you keep it posted so I can share it as a reflection piece with my Native Study students (with your permission) and ask them to think about how their digital identity can be reflective of and culturally responsive to place. Thank you for your reflection and sharing.

    I didn’t believe that my digital identity was culturally responsive to place until a few years ago. I have always posted and shared content relevant to either being Ukrainian or my love of nature and it was only a few years ago that I realized that my connection to nature was me being culturally responsive to place. There is nowhere that makes all my states of being more calm than the hills of land I grew up in. I spend as much time as possible either in the country where I grew up or in the sunroom of my home which is filled with natural elements and greenery and windows all around me. It was actually my sister who pointed out that my online identity reflects just how much I love and connect with nature.

    The digital world has allowed me to connect with family that still live on our originating lands – both my Indigenous family and my Ukrainian family. In more recent years, I have learned that both sides of my family lived through oppression on the prairies together and that this is why my cultures share so many common practices, textiles, and traditions. Through social media, I have learned more about the collaborations of my cultures as I didn’t learn that I was Metis until I was in high school – which helped me make sense of why I have high cheekbones and a baby face and nobody on my Ukrainian side does.

    I think that seeing people evolve according to their surroundings (physical and digital) is reflective of a holistic lifestyle. We follow a cyclical path that helps us grow and make connections naturally and the digital world broadens and increases those connection opportunities that we may not have in the physical world. Posting about what is influential in our lives during each season and at different points in our lives may help someone else to realize or learn about a life connection. Indigenous ways of life and learning are rooted in land, language, and community and I believe that the digital world can holistically foster those elements of life despite not being physical. We can enlighten our mental beings through digital pathways of knowledge and apply them in our physical world to grow spiritually and emotionally and then repeat the cycle.

    I also agree that digital sovereignty is a necessity and I’m working to find more platforms that reflect this movement to use in my teachings (and personal life).

    • Chantal Stenger

      Hi RoxAnee,

      I am glad that you liked the post! I found it difficult this week to explore this topic, because I am by no means an expert, so I am appreciative of your insights. Please feel free to share it with your students. I would love to hear how they thought about this topic and some of the key takeaways from the lesson.

  • Kimberly Kipp

    This is a wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you for sharing so openly, Chantal. I feel like I learned so much by reading it. In particular, I was struck by your building of community online in order to learn/retain your traditional language. My children attend a fransaskois school (to regain the language/culture lost on my husband’s maternal side). When Covid shut everything down, building those language-rich online communities was fundamental for our children. I think of how many other valuable (sometimes life-affirming/saving) communities our students can find online.
    In response to your second question, I must answer as a white settler cisgender female. Online platforms have provided access to educational resources, Indigenous perspectives, and virtual spaces where I can engage with and learn from Indigenous voices, histories, and experiences. In the last 5 years, I have actively worked at unlearning colonial ways by educating myself about anti-racism and environmental/social justice activism and engaging in meaningful dialogues with Indigenous individuals and communities. This is how I use the digital world to connect back to the land, culture, and community.

  • Jacquie Ehrmantraut

    What a great post, Chantal! I really like how you see how digital identity has taken shape and worked for you while also questioning it further – it really conveys your digital identity maturity in asking the difficult questions anyone has to in any healthy relationship. I also really like your points about being able to connect with others to practice language, creating/being part of a community that otherwise may have diminished your opportunity to practice such an important part of any culture. Your question about how the digital world allows us to strengthen connection to land, culture, and community is a great one and one that needs to be asked of students as well. As a white, privileged female who is overrepresented in media and the digital world, it offers a superficial community. Do you mind if I use that question and give credit to you as an overarching curriculum question in my final project? Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Chantal Stenger

      Hi Jacquie,

      Of course, please feel free to use that question! I am glad that it sparked an idea and I look forward to seeing your final project.

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