Amplifying Native Communities Through the Power of Digital Storytelling

Native peoples have always used words to weave relevant and meaningful stories. Historically, our stories and images have endured through spoken word, and our very cultures and lifeways have lived on through the remembering and sharing of those stories. To help drive awareness and investment in Native communities, digital storytelling can be an effective and powerful tool.

The Importance of Storytelling

First Nations’ Vice President of Research and Policy and Director of the California Tribal Fund and Nourishing Native Foods & Health program, A-dae Romero-Briones (Cochiti/Kiowa) writes about storytelling in her outreach:

“We all begin with a story. It is through story that we are connected, not only to each other, but also to our homes, to our lands, to our communities, to our people, to our past, and to our future grandchildren.

It is the collection of stories that we are able to hear and witness that will make the whole of our lives and define the shape and character of our community.”

Our stories connect us to each other, and when we tell stories, we share a part of ourselves. We can create a collective change for the people experiencing the story.

Storytelling in a Digital World

Recognizing the power of storytelling, First Nations works to write, produce, and share stories through our own communications channels. With support from the Bezos Earth Fund, we’re elevating stories of the climate and workforce development efforts of our community partners through our Climate Change and Environment Justice project. This fall, we took a further step by providing attendees of our 2023 Leadership and Entrepreneurial Apprenticeship Development (L.E.A.D.) Conference with a newly curated resource to amplify their stories directly.

The Digital Storytelling Toolkit provides an overview of the components of stories, including the role of the storyteller and the importance of being personal, authentic, knowledgeable, and relatable. It provides examples of how stories can be captured and presented on websites through impact stories, blog posts, and videos. It also includes activities and best practices on how those stories can gain more exposure through digital press releases, email, and social media.

Digital communications is a broad subject, and it can be daunting to tackle. The toolkit aims to simplify the process, providing go-to tips for community partners to “start where they are,” in the digital communications strategies.

 Stories of Ownership and Strength

The theme of the 2023 L.E.A.D. Conference was “Together: Stories of Our Land,” and the subject of storytelling was woven throughout several workshops. The session “Sharing Your Story on Film” underscored the importance of owning Native stories. Presenters provided guidance to attendees about retaining ownership of their stories when engaging with outside journalists and filmmakers. They reminded attendees that the stories people tell about their communities and lifeways are their own and that their involvement and authorization is imperative to the creative process.

In “Utilizing the Reclaiming Native Truth Narrative Change Framework to Launch Your Next Fundraising Campaign,” First Nations’ President and CEO Michael Roberts talked about changing the narrative about Native Americans and how Native Americans are viewed by others. First Nations’ Reclaiming Native Truth research and publications describe how:

Narrative change is an intentional effort to replace an existing narrative with something new. It is a powerful contributor to social change. Narrative change can lead to shifts in attitudes, behaviors, practices and policies — and can lead to deeper and lasting changes in systems and cultures.

The Digital Storytelling Toolkit was created with this understanding. It includes tribal considerations when talking about Native communities, as well as exercises to ensure stories contain asset-based, strengths-based messaging, and are told through an authentic and positive lens.

Associate Director of Stewarding Native Lands Jacque Demko (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation) said she hopes the toolbox will be a resource utilized to amplify stories of not only First Nations community partners and L.E.A.D. Conference attendees, but for anyone in Indian Country who seeks a high-level look at how to implement a digital communications strategy.

Carmen “Lenora” Adkins, Project Director, Project Management and Compliance Office, Chickahominy Tribe

Ready for Download

One community partner who attended the “Connecting Our Cause: Tools for Digital Storytelling” session at the L.E.A.D. Conference is Carmen “Lenora” Adkins, project director for the Chickahominy Tribe in Virginia, a community partner through First Nations’ Nourishing Native Foods & Health Program that just became federally recognized. The tribe is working to build an educational system for Chickahominy youth to learn the value of hunting and fishing as a means of food sovereignty. They are also steeped in programs for youth development and education and natural resource management, along with wanting to take advantage of opportunities as a newly recognized tribe that require planning and operations.

She said the toolkit gets her thoughts turning about next steps and how she can use digital storytelling to advance their work. She said, “Thank you for giving me the toolbox and the toolbelt.”

First Nations is honored to play a role in elevating stories of our community partners and providing resources to help raise awareness and increase investment. The Digital Storytelling Toolkit can be downloaded here.