No names in here yet, I forgot to ask if I could name the other teachers in here.
During my Grad program, my Indigenous cohort had the opportunity to read the novel, "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" by Sherman Alexie, which chronicled a year in the life of Junior, a bright young man living on the Rez and his experiences in a non-Native school off-reserve. We were part of a project carried out by our Grad Advisor, who also had a non-Aboriginal cohort read the novel. The story also followed the challenges and realities of his life at home. The home life was fraught with all sorts of imagery familiar to the Indigenous individual: poverty, alcoholism, intra-tribal discontent, jealousy, death and abuse. In the debriefing afterward, we were informed of the feelings and thoughts of the anonymous other cohort. There was a lot of sadness, a lot of anger and outrage at the lives of the Native peoples on their Rez. They found the novel thoroughly depressing, to generalize.
It was, markedly different from what the Indigenous cohort experienced in our reading. All of that emotion was present, but there was also a decidedly different outcome in understanding. We laughed. A lot. We saw the crises of the poverty but also the crises of being a teenage boy. We also saw something that the others did not see. We saw survivors, not just surviving but trying to find ways to thrive. We saw love, despite the alcoholism and the depression, there was a family that tried and failed, and while they couldn't help self-medicating, never gave up trying.
More importantly, we saw hope. Amidst the challenges, Junior and his family persevered, understanding that he would often be struggling in isolation, but he was okay with that because he could rely on his family to have his back. He could go to them and be rejuvenated by their very presence.
On Monday, March 14th, 2011, I got together with a group of teachers of Aboriginal ancestry and held our first session on a PQT inquiry into health & wellness issues affecting, specifically, Aboriginal teachers, and its affect on Aboriginal students. Aboriginal teachers face many challenges, often in isolation from one another, something that was shared, in depth from the stories of our little group; a lot of us were just surviving as teachers, not thriving. Something else became apparent as the day moved forward. There was a lot of laughter.
Laughter is healing. Laughter is what has helped Aboriginal people survive since before time immemorial. The old saying is to laugh to keep from crying? In many circles, this is true. Goodness knows, there have been a lot of times where these were the choices that were available.
There was also hope. In sharing our stories, we remembered we were not alone. In getting together, there was a sense of rejuvenation that relit that fire dimmed by the isolation of our professions. This is something that we have observed in our other meetings with other Aboriginal teachers. This first meeting was intense, yes, but the support from the others was immeasurable. In the alien system that is the western, colonialised education system, the opportunity to share our stories and reconnect with the sense of community that is the heart of many Native cultures. That sense of belonging allowed strangers in our circle to feel safe and feel like we have known each other for a very long time (We aren't all strangers, mind you).
As a group, we have met on two more occasions and in these sessions, there was markedly less laughter as our individual circumstances had changed, or our direction had altered. There was still laughter and hope, but there was a definite feeling of more pain. The support of having other Aboriginal teachers was, and is, invaluable. I think that this spurred our discussion and the business of the inquiry. We have decided to focus on the positive defining our research question towards how we can support Indigenous teachers in their health and wellness in order to keep from burning out.
We are meeting again later this summer and prepping to continue into the new school year. It should be interesting.