The Relationship between Identity and Self-Determination


There are many terms that can be used to describe a person and who they are. When it comes to an individual, identity is what defines us in either our own eyes or the eyes of others. Self-determination is the power and control people have to make a decision. Both self-determination and identity are key factors in making up a person.

One of the definitions for self-determination that comes from Webster’s dictionary is: “free choice of one’s own acts or states without external compulsion.” The truth of the matter is that when it comes to choices one makes they are in one way or another influenced by one’s surroundings. Using myself as an example, identifying as a Latina woman comes from my choice to identify in such a way. But I would not have chosen to identify as a Latina if it wasn’t for my ancestors and my upbringing that has played a part in my identity. Group influences also are hugely important in the identity and self-determination of an individual.

While I am focusing on the individual, I acknowledge the fact that self-determination starts in a group setting. One reason for that is our desire to share culture and history with others, to feel as if we belong somewhere. An example of this is when I identify as a strong and resilient Latina woman. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone else agrees with that statement; I am bestowing it upon myself because of the history of the women in my family overcoming the violent culture of abuse and assault. If the women of my family would have changed the way they viewed themselves and what they went through, that would have affected me and the way I see my experience. My identity as a strong woman could have changed to that of a battered and victimized woman if their history would have been different. Another important aspect of identity and self-determination within culture is how we deal with taking back our bodies from colonialization and learning how to heal from it.

Identifying as a Latina, and primarily as a woman of color, I have had to deal with colonization especially in regards to my identity. Being connected to my ancestors and in touch with my culture has helped me on the path to self-determination and taking back who I am or choose to be. Physical surroundings and cultural identity have a huge connection to self-determination. Because of Indigenous people and our relationship to all organisms, we are able to repair and heal quicker than most. By identifying with my Indigenous roots, I am taking back a huge part of me that Western civilization wanted to get rid of. Through self-determination, I am upholding the culture of my ancestors.

Scarlett Cortez is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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