Promoting Culturally Respectful Cancer Education Through Digital Storytelling

Int J Indig Health. 2016;11(1):34-49. doi: 10.18357/ijih111201616013.


Cancer is the leading cause of mortality among Alaska Native people. Over half of Alaska Native people live in rural communities where specially trained community members called Community Health Aides/Practitioners (CHA/Ps) provide health care. In response to CHA/Ps' expressed desire to learn more about cancer, four 5-day cancer education and digital storytelling courses were provided in 2014. Throughout each course, participants explored cancer information, reflected on their personal experiences, and envisioned how they might apply their knowledge within their communities. Each course participant also created a personal and authentic digital story, a methodology increasingly embraced by Indigenous communities as a way to combine storytelling traditions with modern technology to promote both individual and community health. Opportunities to learn of CHA/Ps' experiences with cancer and digital storytelling included a 3-page end-of-course written evaluation, a weekly story-showing log kept for 4 weeks post-course, a group teleconference held 1-2 weeks post-course, and a survey administered 6 months post-course. Participants described digital storytelling as a culturally respectful way to support cancer awareness and education. Participants described the process of creating digital stories as supporting knowledge acquisition, encouraging personal reflection, and sparking a desire to engage in cancer risk reduction activities for themselves and with their families and patients. As a result of creating a personalized digital story, CHA/Ps reported feeling differently about cancer, noting an increase in cancer knowledge and comfort to talk about cancer with clients and family. Indigenous digital stories have potential for broad use as a culturally appropriate health messaging tool.

Keywords: Alaska Native; Indigenous methods; cancer education; community health workers; digital storytelling; health communication; health education; public health; storytelling.