Sunday, November 1, 2009

shallow roots

Something has gone terribly wrong in the native culture education programming in our elementary schools. My daughter told me last night that she can't be native, because she doesn't eat moose. We talked about it again in the morning, and she said a man came into her grade 1 class last year and taught them how to make gopher and beaver traps. As an animal lover and a vegetarian, she was offended by the idea of killing these animals, so she rejected the whole notion of native culture and tradition, and disowned that part of her own ancestry.

As we talked this morning, my daughter got more and more upset to hear that things like picking wild berries, making wildcrafted herbal medicines, and knowing the sacred plants are also native traditions, ones which we practice in our family, yet these things are overlooked completely in the 'native culture' teachings at school. Though our conversation is a start, I've got the feeling that something has been broken, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

shallow roots

last child in the woods
never wondering how you got here
heart dreaming green and crowberry
soaring song and the owl’s cry
clanless in school halls
as they talk the culture
you say isn’t yours because
you’d never do it that way
the way those experts say
their hands weaving near-forgotten traps
and kneading borrowed recipes of dough

last child in the woods
spirit of my heart
you are the forest’s daughter
berries roots and medicines of green
brow furrowing at what they say
no matter what they say
you create the way

Rachel Westfall
November 1, 2009


jozien said...

hmmmmm, Rachel i know what you are saying. I don't know how to fix it either. I do know, that in school our kids get exposed to many things, that we cannot totally control. Our kids will still grow up being themselves.
And i believe too, that talking about it with our kids, will help them find their own way.
(You know a little bit about my life style, and i tell you Alexander went to a school which favored hunting, but it might console you that for now he turned out; No interest! in hunting, never had and he eats very little meat or fish.
And it sounds like your girl, already shows what she is about! Wonderful!

Karen said...

This is a beautiful tribute to your daughter's spirit and culture. I suggest you ask the teacher if you might go into your daughter's class and do a presentation on herbal remedies and that tradition. "Well-rounded" should be part of the definition of "education."

Catvibe said...

It would be so frustrating to experience that, both as a child and a parent. Your daughter is getting quite a 'teaching'! I love the poem.

Carole said...

Perhaps the school needs someone like your daughter to bring awareness of a more rounded cultural education.

Cherie/ Butterfly Dreamer said...

I agree, your daughter could do a presentation on the things about her culture that she loves. The poem is lovely as usual.

RachelW said...

Jozien, yes there are so many things like this! It just makes me sad that she feels alienated from something which is a part of herself, when the whole point of including native culture in the education curriculum is to try and help kids feel included (and therefore want to stay in school).

Karen, I don't know how comfortable I'd be with that... inviting myself in! I agree, it should be well-rounded.

Cat, yes frustrating, and it worries me as well.

Carole, I hope she can find her voice. She is one very small, shy person in a sea of large, loud people.

Cherie, thank you. I hope one day she has the courage to do that. She is a strong child, but shy and soft-spoken. I hear concerns from her at home that she would never feel safe voicing in school.

Ravynwolfe said...

I suspect just to let her know that no one person decides for a whole culture what is what. A culture is made up of people, not person. hugs.

Ghost Dansing said...

it's probably going to be alright.... the spirit flows where she wills....

Poetikat said...

You make me wish I had some native blood in me! What a great tribute to cultural heritage and to your daughter.
Long after you're gone, she will have these gems with which to remember you (both on paper and in heart).


joaquin carvel said...

she will create the way - and she will be well-equipped to do it, having been soundly taught by a mom who hasn't left her most crucial education in the hands of school boards and book companies.

Mike-Mike said...

Exploiting and killing animals should not be taught by Institutions. Children need to be taught AND shown that wildlife deserve to have their own lives to themselves and NOT to be viewed as "things" for humans to exploit and kill! Sigh....

Your young daughter with the old soul will not be indoctrinated by the words "culture and "tradition". She will see that just because humans did something eons ago, it doesn't mean we should continue to do so today.

"last child in the woods
spirit of my heart
you are the forest’s daughter
berries roots and medicines of green
brow furrowing at what they say
no matter what they say
you create the way"--Words of the wise

Woman in a Window said...

She is more than they will ever be. They say but she does. Let her know that here I am all the way over here in Massey, Ontario and yet I can hear her spirit thrum. Her spirit is as old as the forest itself. The birds tell me so as they lite the sky. They carry berries and gossip. They are happy. They feel they outsmarted the fingers of your daughter. They don't know of her full belly and her pockets, large and bottomless.


DragonFly24 said...

We went through these things with Mara. It is a pitfall of raising rational beings. U will figure out where she stands. Where she is developmentally right now is kind of an "all or nothing" deal when it comes to "us" or "them". Right now, her tribe may be on 3 people big. It is uncomfortable to navigate through the strange traditions and taboos that are the result of old old solutions for a long dead problems. Never fear. She will sort it out. Just keep offering solutions. It is an opportunity for both of you to sort out your ideas and keep the shiny ones :). It will be a healing thing for both of you. Blessings!

Annie said...

It's wonderful that your daughter comes to you to discuss these things, and that you can give her the larger perspective. Your poem is beautiful.

namingconstellations said...

What might be best is to explain the context of the traps and hunting... there wasn't much wiggle room for sources of protein and other meaty nutrients back in the day, but that doesn't mean the natives just went around killing willy-nilly. Talk with her about the notion of treating the hunt and the kill with respect, about not wasting any part of the animal, about giving thanks and honoring its spirit, and about only taking what you need rather than what you want. And of course, that doesn't mean that she has to go be a hunter to understand that part of her heritage; there are plenty of things we can understand and respect without choosing to partake in them.