Thursday, May 31, 2012

On the Power of Story-telling: TEDxYorkU 2012 - Megan Bertasson - Acimowin: To Tell a Story

I have spoken here about the power of story-telling before. I know its power and impact and I think I have been able to convey, though there is always that niggling little part of my brain that says that you are missing something. This youtube piece showed up in my Twitter feed recently and I think the story shared by Megan is phenomenal. Please check it out.

TEDxYorkU 2012 - Megan Bertasson - Acimowin: To Tell a Story

Monday, May 21, 2012

"You're Lucky": Random Half-formed Thoughts on Identity Politics

“Everyone knew who Indians were.  Everyone knew what we looked like.  Even Indians.  But standing in that parking lot in Oklahoma with my brother, looking at the statue of Will Rogers, I realized, for perhaps the first time, that I didn’t know.  Or more accurately, I didn’t know how I wanted to represent Indians. My brother was right.  Will Rogers did not look like an Indian.” …-  Thomas King, The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative
I was having a conversation with a cousin on the side of the road on my rez a few years ago, one of those times where you are walking along and the other guy pulls up beside you and starts chatting out the window, whether you want to talk to him or not.  At any rate, our conversation turned to a racist incident that had occurred in town recently involving a mutual acquaintance.  I commented on the fact that it can sometimes be tough out there for us to get a fair shake from the non-Native community, and he responded thusly, “well, you’re lucky, you’re a passer, you can get away with blending in.”

That comment has always sort of dug into my skull and clamped down on my brain.  It bugs me.  It hurts a little bit.  I am light-skinned, or fair-skinned, whichever way you want to call it.  I used to say white Indian, but other fair-skinned Natives didn’t like that very much.  Bonita Lawrence wrote about it in her book ‘Real Indians’ and Others, which I made these notes on:

Light skinned privilege
-          there is a perception that light skinned Indians have a privilege not enjoyed by dark-skinned Indians, there is debate around this but it does exist for those who already enjoy class and gender privilege

-          did light skinned want to look more Indian?  In some cases yes, in others no.  some were able to accept their own sense of self, others were troubled by knowing they were Indian, understanding they were Indian but looking in the mirror they saw a white guy


-          white looking Indians find themselves having to defend their nativeness and declare their nativeness to defend their native heritage

-          there are many that don’t feel comfortable in white or native society

-          white people are always willing to denounce claims of nativeness, as are native people who accuse you of being a wannabee, both because you don’t look the part

-          those that have all the other markers, status, band membership, lineage and heritage, it is less traumatic

I can assure that, living as a working class fellow living on my reserve, I do not feel “lucky” that I’m a passer.  Lawrence captured the feelings and challenges in her book.  There is a lot of discomfort in my position within my racial and cultural identity.  I take much out of the fact that I have those other markers of lineage, heritage and membership, but like Lawrence’s people, I do, often find myself having to declare and defend my Nativeness to both Natives and non-Natives alike.  My cousin’s comment was pretty innocent, but it does reinforce the discomfort of my position.

What is an Indian?  What is a Native person?  What is an Aboriginal person? An Indigenous person?  First Nations/Metis/Inuit?  How do we represent ourselves when we do not know what we want to represent?  The debate going on about identity is scary as there are sides that say I don’t deserve to call myself Native, and others that are declaring that I have the lineage so I have the right.  I call it a debate but it isn’t really.  I recognize that this entire issue is something created by the ongoing colonialism that is taking place in this country, and I am worried that some arguing for decolonization are trapping themselves into a neo-colonial view by taking fundamental ideas on who should be considered Native.  I’m not brown enough for some folks, and that isn’t going to change.

How do these identity politics affect our children and our students?  How is their self confidence, self-esteem and ability to succeed affected by their understanding of who they are?  How do challenges to our understanding of self affect how we succeed?

 I feel like I am repeating myself a little bit but these are things running through my mind right now.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why Aboriginal Education Matters: A Fragment of a Thought

How do you describe the feeling of being silenced? In what ways are you able to express the hopelessness and powerlessness that well up when you get in trouble for telling your truth, integrating your wisdom into the conversation? How do you respond to the understanding that your worldview, however "valued", is contingent on the perception of being the other to the colonial worldview? I've experienced situations where I have been silenced. I've had power struggles with dominant voices who have given my Indigenous voice a hearing and then re-marginalized it when it did not meet the perception of their understanding, both as a student and as a teacher. Sometimes I have resisted, more often, I fear, I have let myself be silenced. I am a child of colonization after all, I know my place. I have lived the experience of being centered, with the normally dominant voice moved to the margins, and watched that voice fight hard to regain their power. It often happens that the discomfort of letting another worldview have the floor prevents the dominant truly allow a sharing of power. In the larger sphere known as Canada, I saw an interesting article yesterday: Taseko Mines asks Harper to place limits on first-nations input. The article reports on a letter sent to the federal government by the president of Taseko Mines, asking "No aboriginal prayer ceremonies, please, and no kindergarten plays about dead fish". The letter also complained about the weight given to Aboriginal "spirituality" in the decision-making on the last time Taseko Mines applied for approval to do the Proseperity Mine. I am on the record, in this blog, opposed to the this mine project, but that is not the point of this post. I am fascinated by the power relationship on display in the letter from the president. He is pushing back against the centering of Indigenous voices in a situation that will have great impact on Indigenous people. He is opposing the way and means the Indigenous voice chooses to make itself heard. He is reinforcing the colonial attitude of power and control. This post is titled Why Aboriginal Education Matters because I sort of view aspects of Aboriginal education as the idea of re-centering focus onto marginalized voices and allowing those truths to be told in the way they need to be told, the way that best serves the storyteller. To decolonize, I need to tell my story in the way that I know how, which is not necessarily the way I have been taught in school. The value of Teztan Biny to the Tsilhqot'in is not in its monetary value or its value as a tailings pond. The Tsilhqot'in have explained its importance repeatedly, but it falls on deaf ears because we continue to center on the colonial reference point. My latest silencing has been and continues to be devastating, not just because of the nature of the silencing, but also due to the fact that when allies asked what was wrong, I would explain but they would not understand. They do not get the reference I am making because it is not western, it is outside their frame of understanding. Aboriginal education needs to decolonize while it invites learning. This will take time to understand how for me as well.