Online Program

Traditional to Contemporary: Linking Storytelling and Technology as an Indigenous Approach to Community-based Cancer Education in Alaska Native Communities

Monday, November 2, 2015

Melany Cueva, RN, EdD, Community Health Aide Program, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, AK
Katie Cueva, MAT, MPH, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Laura Revels, BA, Community Health Services, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, AK
Regina Kuhnley, RN, CNM, M.Ed, Community Health Aide Program, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, AK
Mark Dignan, PhD, MPH, College of Medicine/Prevention Research Center, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY
Anne Lanier, MD, MPH, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, AK

Alaska’s village-based Community Health Workers (CHWs) requested cancer information for themselves and their communities. To support CHWs in changing the story of cancer in Alaska Native communities, four 5-day cancer education courses incorporated digital storytelling, which combines the tradition of oral storytelling with computer-based technology. The resulting stories are an engaging, emotional approach that has inspired positive behavioral change among community members.


This project explored how viewing CHWs’ digital stories impacted Alaskan community members’ cancer perceptions and health behaviors. Each of the thirty cancer education/digital storytelling course participants created a 2-3 minute digital story, then tracked their digital-story showings for one month. To understand viewers’ experiences, three focus groups and fifteen in-depth interviews were completed.


Within one month after course completion, over 959 individuals had viewed CHWs’ digital stories in a variety of settings.  Community viewers shared that digital-stories enhanced memory retention, made it easier to talk about cancer, and got them thinking about their health behaviors. “This type of testimony is so powerful it activates all of your senses for learning.” “The stories just catch your heart and you want to take care of yourself.”  Viewers shared that watching the digital stories made it easier for them to talk about cancer.  They also reported that watching the stories inspired cancer prevention behavioral changes for themselves, their families, and their communities; including improving diet for themselves and their families, quitting/reducing smoking, getting recommended screening exams, improving self-care, and encouraging family/community members to get screenings and quit smoking.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Communication and informatics
Diversity and culture
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Public health or related education

Learning Objectives:
Discuss digital storytelling as an indigenous approach to community health List behavioral changes community members were inspired to undertake as a result of viewing CHWs’ digital stories

Keyword(s): Community-Based Health, Cancer Prevention and Screening

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have worked with the project team on cancer education with, and for, Alaska's community health aides since 2008. My scientific interests include social determinants of health and culturally appropriate approaches to wellness.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.