Notes and report by Joaquin Munoz
The end of a thing is always the hardest part. Being in such close contact with folks, learning, thinking, growing and changing with people is a process that is never direct, always dynamic, and fluid. So it is always hard when it comes to an end, because it feels scary and empty. Now that a teacher is not nearby to direct us, where should we go? What will be do? The sense of community that was build might feel like it is gone. What is powerful about this week is the sense of mission and commitment going forward. So many powerful ideas were presented to us and so many tools were given as a way to further our own investigations.
In fact, what may be an even bigger gift than the information about Haudenosaunee language, culture and history given to us, is that we now have a powerful framework by which to learn about all indigenous languages, cultures and histories. If we borrow from the Thanksgiving Address shared by Sean Thompson on the very first day, we now have a way to envision a path forward. We know then, that every culture has words, phrases and beliefs about what it means to approach the world and make sense of it. From the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, we know that there are words and phrases to represent winds, birds, animals, people, trees, plants and relationships. Knowing the word is not sufficient, however. One must learn the meaning, the significance and the symbolism of each one.
Thus, we can begin a study of the language, history or culture of the peoples around us by attempting to learn more of their worldview, their knowledge, and the way they understand knowledge. And what we immediately must see is the complexity of the worldview. It is in this complexity that we must enter, and learn from, with the greatest respect.
The Danger of a Single Story
In her TedTalk “The Danger of a Single Story” Chimamanda Adiche describes the challenge of overcoming our biases and stereotypes when we observe others. She reminds all of us that every single person is a complex and complicated individual with amazing experiences and unique perspectives. There is a danger in operating solely from a belief in a single way a person is or can be. Assuming that anyone can only be one way reduces their complexity, and takes away a part of their humanity.
As we learned this week it is absolutely essential that we carefully study, and work to understand the experiences of Indigenous folks around us. We cannot reduce people to simple stereotypes, to single stories, but rather, we must learn of the complexity of their experience, and appreciate this. In this way, we can come to truly appreciate a group of people.
“It Wasn’t False, But It Could Have Been a Little Bit Truer”
During the week, one of the most profound statements came during a story. When asked about a book on Haudenosaunee culture, Chandra Maracle assessed it, saying “it’s not false, but it could have been truer.” This line is crucial, in that it presents educators with a special challenge. It challenges us to work to understand the complexity of people, and to know more about their history, language and culture. It challenges us to continuously seek to learn and understand the cultures around us, to not reduce them to single stories for the sake of convenience or efficiency. The statement reminds us that we are constantly working to develop our knowledge, and that it is not an endpoint. Rather, it is a continuous path and destination. It is the continuous work of trying to learn about, and understand another culture’s worldview.
“There Needs to be Real Truth to Get Real Reconciliation”
All of this is to say that our learning and understanding this week is meant to serve as one step on our path. This week is not the end of what we are called upon to do. It is only the beginning of our task. This work represents the start of learning, engaging and developing our awareness around the experiences of the Indigenous people around us, as way to contribute to the one of the most important tasks of all: truth, reconciliation, and healing. In order to get to the reconciliation and healing, we must have the real truth, as Amy Bomberry said. It is in this work that healing can happen for all people.
It is in this task that we must make a commitment. It is central to the commitments we promise to hold, symbolized by the Wampum belt. It is central to the relationships we created this week. And in these relationships, the ending no longer has to be the hardest part, because we know it is only the first step of a greater work to be done.