Friday, October 14, 2011

The Word With Two Meanings UPDATED

I read the following tweet yesterday:

@starleigh_grass: Reading kiskinohamâtôtâpânâs by Stout and Peters. The word is used to describe schoolbus and contains the words "wagon" & "cry". #bced #fnmi

It has sort of stuck with me.  

I have been told by a reliable source that the Halq’eméylem word for school is the same word for prison.  I do not know the word myself and have not been able to verify it, but I have no reason to doubt the veracity.  Like I said, I have known the source of this knowledge for a long time.  I have also known the feeling that is conjured by that statement.  Whether it is true or not, the parallel is very much there.  For many of our children, school is a place we have to go to and a place to escape.

When I was a First Nations Support Worker, I was amazed to see so many students leaving to go hunting with their parents, or to attend smokehouse or winter dance.  I was also amazed at how many teachers were angry with this state of affairs. 

A few years later, I listened to a principal say that Native families needed to make the decision to put their children first, stop practicing the culture and their traditions and focus on getting their kids through the system.

I have never been the strongest on language and culture.  I consider it to be an aspect of our identity and not the whole being of it.  I was, however, struck by those words as if he had physically assaulted me.  Indigenous people have always been the ones that have had to give up something, to sacrifice a part of themselves.

I do not believe that you have to practice the language and culture to be considered Indigenous.  I do not believe that you need to choose between your BC “education” or your First Nations education.  I know that, as a teacher, I struggle to find the balance everyday, I have to choose one or the other in order serve my students.  We chose so that they would no longer have to.

And yet, I still hear these words: they need to give up that and put their education first; they need to make a choice between being First Nations, or Aboriginal, and being educated.

Whether or not it is one word for both school and prison, it doesn’t matter.  The meaning is still the same.
I received a tweet from Jenny Cho (@javafest):  Had to find out! H language tchr at our school says school=skwu:l & jail is q'iq'awtxw.
So, two words.  It is a bit of a heart break to learn that, although I am grateful to have this now.  I do not believe that this changes the meaning of my post in any real way.  I believe that the two meanings are still valid in my understanding and the need to challenge, or resist the need to have to make that choice between the one or the other.  Thanks Jenny!

1 comment:

  1. I'm the parent that sends my kid to school sleep deprived on Monday because I've been dragging him around the province to attend events all weekend. Tsk. So irresponsible of me. Lol.

    The most important thing that I can give him, though, is a sense of identity.

    I wonder what role I can play in changing this situation so my son doesn't have to confront that choice?