The Digication Blog

Understanding who we are is essential to create a culture of belonging. Exploring cultural identity and belonging as an Alaska native student can be a complex and meaningful process. Especially since Alaska native cultures are diverse and have a rich history that spans thousands of years.

Shamai Thacker who is an ePortfolio strategist at the University of Alaska Anchorage joined us in this interactive Digication Scholars Conversation. Shamai discussed the challenges and triumphs she encountered while receiving a master’s of education in teaching and learning, and also her desire to follow her path by giving back to the Alaska community. In her words:

“I wanted to give back as well, and I saw myself doing that by getting in touch with Alaska Native groups somehow, but I had no idea how to do that.”

Why cultural identity is so important?


Cultural identity, while highlighting differences, can also bring together people of the same culture. If you’ve ever been in a situation where every other person seems to understand or connect to something, but you can’t grasp it, you might have witnessed the effects of cultural identity. Cultural identity is important because we all want to find ourselves in positions where we feel a complete sense of belonging.

For many Alaska Native students, exploring their cultural identity and belonging can involve learning about their cultural traditions, history, and values and finding ways to connect with their cultural community. Shamai mentioned how profound ePortfolios and related reflective pedagogies are and how they helped her and fellow UAA students draw connections.

The beliefs, practices, behaviors, and values that a particular group considers appropriate are called culture in this context. On the other hand, identity is about realizing what is right and true for you. When we unconsciously interpret and absorb environmental signals into our identities to feel like we belong, we develop a cultural identity.

While trying to discover her identity, Shamai talked about her journey of developing a deeper connection to her Alaska Native heritage alongside her pursuits as an educator. Furthermore, she explained, “How do I teach other indigenous students if I don’t understand their cultures as they’re different to mine.” Important questions like this inspired Shamai to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in Alaska Native Language and Studies.

Understanding Diversity Equity Identity Belonging and Decolonization (DEIBD)

Diversity, equity, identity, belonging, and decolonization (DEIBD) are important points that Shamai talked about because these concepts relate to her desire to create a more inclusive and equitable society.

Shamai’s family has a background in commercial fishing, which contributed to a challenging and somewhat irregular educational journey. However, she has used these experiences to fuel her passion for mentoring and advising kids in similar circumstances. Shamai believes that even when people use our identities to devalue and plant voices in our heads to make us feel lesser, we should not hesitate to share our experiences to help others. Because people can benefit greatly by learning about the experiences of others by seeing other people’s journeys and how those experiences have impacted them – by creating ePortfolios.

Incorporating these concepts into education and other systems can help to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for people from diverse backgrounds. This includes creating policies and practices that support diversity and equity, such as offering accommodations for students with disabilities, providing resources and support for students from underrepresented groups, and challenging and disrupting systems of oppression. It is also important to recognize and respect marginalized groups’ histories and experiences and work toward decolonizing systems and institutions.

Here are some ways that Alaska Native students can explore their cultural identity and belonging:

  1. Learn about their culture: Alaska Native cultures are diverse and have a rich history. Students can learn about their culture by reading books, listening to stories and music, and attending cultural events and festivals.
  2. Connect with their cultural community: Alaska Native students can connect with their cultural community by joining cultural clubs and organizations, participating in cultural activities and events, and volunteering in their community.
  3. Seek out mentors: Alaska Native students can seek mentors who can guide and support them as they explore their cultural identity and belonging. These mentors can be elders, teachers, or other community members who deeply understand Alaska Native culture.
  4. Reflect on their own experiences: Alaska Native students can reflect on their own experiences and how they relate to their cultural identity and belonging. This can include thinking about their family and community, values and beliefs, and goals and aspirations.

Finally, exploring cultural identity and belonging can be a lifelong journey, and it is an important aspect of personal and cultural development for everyone. By learning about their culture, connecting with their community, seeking out mentors, and reflecting on their own experiences, people can develop a deeper understanding of their cultural identity and belonging.

Hear more from Shamai Thacker, Cultural Identity and Belonging by clicking here to listen to the full episodes.

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