In my Masters project, I wrote (about an Indigenous youth identity group):
(They) exist in what Henze & Vanett (1993), cited in Deyhle (2000), calls the area where the two worlds (Anglo and Indigenous) collide (p. 11). This is a space of multiple tensions, an intersection point, where the youth are challenged to negotiate their identity markers and construct a social memory for their specific circumstances.
I forget sometimes that I live here too. The imagery of walking in two worlds is almost a cliché in discussions about people of Aboriginal ancestry. When I read the Deyhle piece alluded to above, I was struck by the analogy of two world colliding. I have always believed this to be more accurate because people of my generation, like the youth following, have been in such a state that we are feeling the strain of the changes, the tensions of the western world pulling in one direction, the Indigenous world, in its various forms (traditional, contemporary) pulling you in multiple directions. There is a lot of tension and stress that is affecting me in this dichotomy and I am feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing.
I have been struggling lately.
My teaching practice is not fully Indigenous. Not by a long shot. It is sort of a mish-mash of what I understand of Indigenous ideas and teachings I have been introduced to (I can’t claim I fully get it either, I was educated in the western system after all) and western practices. As a result, I am still trying to learn how to indigenize my teaching practice and I know with certainty that I still have a lot to learn. I became a teacher for all the right reasons, I think. Too many Aboriginal kids were falling out and too many Aboriginal people were not seeing themselves reflected in the school system. The hope has always been that I would work towards changing the system by teaching within it, to offer a model that students of Aboriginal ancestry could look to and find something that they could use, something that reflects who they are and who they could be.
The challenge to this, and one I have heard from other Aboriginal teachers and have felt acutely myself, is that in this action, I have also made a choice to step into the western system that is the education system that reinforces the normative ideals of the Canadian society, often at the expense of the First Nations sense of identity and location within that larger society. In this regard, Aboriginal people, when not forced into this system and required to give up that part of us we recognize as our cultural identity, were given the “choice” of giving up voluntarily that cultural identity and entering the western system. Choosing not to participate in the assimilation that was, and is, the Canadian education system meant choosing a life of poverty and isolation from the larger society we are a part of.
The fact that choosing to surrender that sense of self did not mean escape, from poverty and other socio-economic ills, speaks volumes about the systemic roadblocks that Canadian policy has placed between the Indigenous person and true equity in Canadian society.
I remember fighting with teachers about the right of Aboriginal students to attend cultural ceremonies during school hours. I have been a defender of the right for our children, or their families, not to have to choose between their cultural identity (and its very important education) and the western system we all are a part of. No one doubts that the education system is necessary as it is the knowledge we need to function in Canadian society, but it is not the only society we need to function in. Our Indigenous cultures have been battered, bruised, raped from us and, in many cases, made different from what they used to be. But they are still here. And we are fighting for the right of our children to not have to give up that part of themselves to succeed in the other one.
So, we talk about walking in two worlds; we talk about cultural brokerage; we talk about finding a balance between the two and sharing the best of both worlds. We are working our way towards that ideal, but we aren’t there yet, I do not believe. I find the two worlds colliding analogy to be more apt at the moment. This move towards trying to find equity, trying to balance two disparate systems into something that is good for our students is a point where many strands of tension intersect. There are so many different interests at play in this collision, multiple Indigenous voices shouting out different desires and expectations, some stubbornly refusing to compromise and cooperate, competing with western voices and their understanding of their own system and its benefits and deficits, some of whose voices are as stubborn and harsh as the other side.
I had only recently begun to discover my cultural identity, my inheritance from my Sto:lo and Saulteaux ancestors, when I made the choice to teach. Part of that choice was choosing to teach in the western system, to voluntarily give up a part of myself in order to move into a world where I could work towards making it safe for my students not to have to be put in a position where they were forced to make that choice. To pick one or the other.
Therein the challenge lies. One of the issues that came up at our Teacher Inquiry was the knowledge of what we were giving up. There was never any regret in that decision, but the sense of loss is very much present. Particularly in those moments when you are starting to reclaim, within the walls of the western system, that Indigenous part of your identity and apply it to your teaching practice and you find you have to give it up again.
That part hurts and it is a time of struggle but I need to remind myself that, by my choosing, I am existing in that place where two worlds collide, it is filled with storm and stress and it can be isolating and unfriendly and terrifying but I remind myself that eventually the two worlds will complete their trajectory, transform into a new world where my students and my children can have the best of both cultures, without ever giving up any part of themselves, like we have had to do.
My quiet act of resistance.