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De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

De-professionalizing – stepping out and beginning the reflective process

Posted by on Apr 15, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments




Around the year 2000, I moved to the UK and began navigating down the open and unchartered waters of my post-graduate degree (it being a self-created research project). A few months into the degree programme, I dove deeply into a great sea of literature that engaged with critiques of education and international development.

During this phase of literary free-diving, many new worlds of thinking, acting and living began to open for me. I found it simultaneously thrilling and disorientating. Yet, the direction it has led me to, this journey of enlivened learning we are on now, feels exactly right.

Since that time in the early days of living in the UK, I have often encountered three terms that are expressed in overlapping ways – de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization. It has taken me a long time to understand what these mean and I am still learning, particularly along this journey we are on now. I feel that I can grasp the logic of these terms, intellectually, but it has taken me much longer to be able to grasp what it might mean to experience them.

These last several months, I have noticed many, many different things that are causing me to pause and reflect on how my mind and body have been conditioned and colonized through my education and social upbringing.

As Udi finishes a series of posts on Brazil, I am going to finish a series of posts that explore de-colonization, unlearning and de-professionalization, as I have not only come to understand them, but as I have come to experience them more fully along this journey. The pictures you will see in this post I have taken straight from the internet – images that come from googling ‘unlearning’. I thought this would be an interesting way to represent how others have represented what this term means through imagery. I will put in my own images in future postings on this topic.

This post here is a beginning – that I hope will help to open a series of windows to reflect on how, during our enlivened learning journey, I am unlearning and relearning much of what I was educated to believe, to think, to do and to live — how I am ‘deprofessionalizing’ myself, and how I find that I am becoming increasingly ‘de-professionalized’.

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This image comes from a consultancy-related blog: http://franklincovey.com/blog/consultants/durelleprice/2009/02/21/unlearning-101/ — I found it interesting that the first lines of this post use Einstein’s famous quote and how ‘unlearning’ is imperative in the university context: “Albert Einstein, icon of intellect and insight, said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Universities are focused on higher learning when perhaps they should promote a course entitled Unlearning 101.”

First, a little bit on colonization….

The words ‘colonized’ and ‘colonization’ are often reserved for, and orientated towards, different indigenous and minority ethnic groups. During my own schooling, for example, the word colonization was used in ways that referred to the taking over of people, communities (most often indigenous or other minority groups) and land by another outside, foreign force. In other words, we (sort of) learned about the physical aspects of colonization. I say sort of here because our learning exploration on colonization, even as a physical force, was very limited and almost entirely one-sided.

Being taken over by physical force is violent – where the perpetrator and the victim experience violence. During school, I do not remember any point in time when we critically considered the colonization processes, the unjust forms of violence, that Native Americans endured (and continue to endure today). It was something of an inevitable fact that was going to happen, that was meant to happen. It was always downplayed, minimized and cushioned into a formation of knowledge that somehow (implicitly) validated and legitimized the violent taking over, the colonization, of all of the United States of America and the genocidal impacts on the many hundreds of indigenous communities that once covered these lands – that emerged from these lands. The many forms of violence, associated with colonization, that I have learnt so much more about on this journey, is incomprehensible.

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This image was used several times in the film ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ to help understand the multiple processes of colonization and the dominant understanding of ‘American Progress’ – see other images used in the film here: http://schoolingtheworld.org/film/presskit/photo-gallery/

Since my initial literary free-diving phase when I first came to the UK, I have come to perceive and understand colonization, and the processes of colonization, as not only something that is physical. I now see colonization as mental, emotional, cultural, spiritual, ecological… I also understand colonization as long-lasting, inter-generational – and continuously masked in new forms (I will discuss this more later – but an example of this is the ‘Empire of Money’ phase that the Zapatistas describe and I discussed in a previous post).

Colonization is violence in multiple forms – violence that does not disappear, that has not disappeared and continues to be deeply and traumatically experienced – in North, Central and South America, in Australasia, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, Africa, Europe and the Arctic…

Each of the educational initiatives we are visiting along our journey are directly facing previous and continued forms of violence associated with colonization — but, significantly, aside from just facing them, they are creating ways to move beyond them.  This aspect to me – this moving beyond is what is most important.

 

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This image comes from Jack Uldrich a ‘global futurist’ blog called Unlearning 101 — http://www.unlearning101.com/fuhgetaboutit_the_art_of_/unlearning-curve/

What moving beyond does is to not only perceive places, other people and ourselves as in deficit, but instead focus on possibility, healing, compassion, community, creativity and imagination. I feel this moving beyond is what we can all learn from, no matter our own background, cultural context, social and educational upbringing.

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I really like this quote by Arundhati Roy – it was used on the facebook page of ‘Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden’ — Roy now publishes a great deal of social and eco-justice related writing that is as poetic and engaging as her first (and only) work of fiction, ‘The God of Small Things’

For any of us to move beyond, from what I understand, we must go through de-colonization processes of unlearning and re-learning much of what we have been taught.

My own process of de-colonization is about going to the core of my own assumptions of what I think is true or ‘right’ — for example, about the stories through which I was taught in school (particularly with reference to ‘history’ that is often incredibly one-sided and narrow) and all sorts of aspects of my life, or how I have chosen and will continue to choose to live my life (what is important to me and what I value), particularly my so-called ‘professional’ life.

All of us have to learn to ‘be professional’ to be absorbed into any working system. To get to the point that I was working as a lecturer in academia, I had to unsurprisingly jump through all sorts of professional hoops.

Within the walls of the university, I have often sat through long departmental meetings and reflected on the communication structures that are in place during those hours – how we communicate, the words and the tones that we use, who dictates the flow of communication, the minute and mundane details – typically around illogical administrative expectations – that occupy hours of discussion, the context of where we are actually sitting (inside plain, institutional walls). The air is stale. There is no fresh breath of creative life during these hours. Yet, this is the essence of professionalism. The conduct and criteria carried out during these meetings.

My quest to de-professionalize my so-called professionalized self came long before leaving the institutional halls of academia. I have always pushed boundaries, this is part of who I am, and I am highly sensitive to structures of power and authority. I am sure my parents have much to say on this topic! :)


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This wonderful book, along with several others related to unlearning, is published through Shikshantar: The Peoples’ Institute for Rethinking Education and Development and is freely downloadable here: http://www.swaraj.org/shikshantar/stories_resistance.html

My sensitivity to power also led me to my post-graduate studies which were essentially a critical exploration of power structures within the education and international development fields.

How we each experience and ‘exercise’ power – on each other and on ourselves — and why we do so as well as the effects this (can) has – have been burning questions and interests that have consumed many hours of my life.   I use the term ‘exercise’ here as I feel that we all are constantly receiving and exercising power. It is what makes us human. Explorations of power are not only an intellectual exercise for me — in fact, it has been a passion of ethical, moral and even spiritual belief.

There is much about leaving my academic work in the UK and embarking on this journey that is to do with ‘de-professionalizing’ myself, to somehow disconnect with the hierarchical structural centre of academia, whilst still staying connected at the margins.

I want to disentangle myself from the constraints of rationalism that comes through forms of institutional power and authority that I experienced during my time in studying and working in academia.

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This logo comes from the ‘Institute of Unlearning’ website: http://www.unlearning.org/home.htm

I want to unlearn the hierarchies of power and legitimacy, particularly around leadership, knowledge and relating, I feel that I placed on myself to be able to survive within the institutionalized system.

I want to experience and learn more about how generosity and hospitality can be a central priority (how it can be offered) that has often been devoid within the academic system.

I want my learning to be transformational, not imposed.

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educational activist (whose writing is accessible and inspirational) wrote in his most well-known book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the young generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

In the academic environment, as in many institutional working environments, leadership decisions, ways of relating and professional conduct most often take rational forms for efficiency and accountability. And, being rational tends to be driven mostly, if not almost entirely, by ourheads. In other words, our hearts tend to be marginalized, if not silenced.

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This image comes from the blog ‘All things learning’ — http://allthingslearning.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/unlearning-teacher-learning/

Rather than working only through our heads (as is the dominant form of learning in the educational system, including academia), Udi and I have both struggled to continue allowing our hearts to lead our work, our ideas, our relationships – with students and staff within and outside the walls of the university.

As the university becomes increasingly bureaucratized and corporatized, there is very little space for anything beyond teaching-learning relationships that are based on efficiency. Thus, teaching-learning relationships that are based on co-creativity, generosity, curiosity, hospitality are becoming increasingly rare.

When we each learn through and make decisions with our hearts (rather than only our heads), there is more life. What I have experienced in each of the places we have visited over these last 7 months – is that learning, relating and leading is prioritized as much with the heart, the hands and the home —- as the head. This is because learning is about connecting first and foremost – connecting between theory and practice, connecting to a deep sense of self with community and the land and all of its beings.

It is a somewhat brave step for me (part of the de-professionalizing process I think) to open up personally on this topic. I feel slightly timid, like I am about to jump into cold water. I know the water will be refreshing and rejuvenating, but it is still somehow intimidating. However, I feel it is important for my own un-learning.

If you are still reading at this stage, thank you! I’d love to hear comments and feedback — and even more, to hear about your own experiences of resistance in your professional life, or your own un-learning, de-colonizing or de-professionalizing processes!

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This image comes from a blog – ‘artsyville’ — posting March 23, 2009 ‘an odd kind of math’ — http://artsyville.blogspot.com.au/2009_03_01_archive.html

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Update April

Update April

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in all posts, on the road | 0 comments

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Friends

We thought it was about time to write another update. We are still catching up with our experiences from our travels in this blog whilst on the road. Our writing will be moving between Brazil and Chile for the next posts. In the meantime we have left the Americas and crossed the Pacific to Australia and New Zealand. Our commitment to openness on this journey has led us to unexpected and beautiful new experiences in Australia and New Zealand already with wonderful new friends.

Where we are
A couple of weeks ago in Byron Bay, just south of the Gold Coast in Australia, we took part in the Economics of Happiness conference (15-17 March) meeting many inspiring people active in various countries engaged in thinking and developing practices and projects around localisation in terms of food production, economic and financial systems, community development and education. We helped facilitate a workshop, Alternatives to Schooling, with our friend Manish Jain, who co-founded Shikshantar (2000) and Swaraj University (2009) in Udaipur, India, (we will visit Manish and Swaraj University in June), and with Julie Gassner who is a senior teacher at Kinma an alternative school in Sydney (we will also visit her and Kinma at the end of April). We will write more about the Economics of Happiness conference soon. We have been invited to visit a number of people and initiatives through our participation at this gathering in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand.

Here in Australia, and New Zealand, we will also be visiting a number of people and initiatives which we will write about soon. Also, we have been invited to give a seminar on our project at Monash University in Melbourne on the 17th of April. The title of the seminar is Re-imagining the University as Emergent from Place. And, we will be visiting the Aobriginal Arnhem lands northeast of Darwin for 6 days to visit and learn from the Yirrkala Arts Centre and Buku Larrngay Mulka Project (Buku Larrngay means “the first rays of the sun on your face at sunrise” in Yolngu and Mulka means “a sacred but public ceremony” also in Yolngu, one of the local Aborigine communities).

Update on the Documentary
We are getting to the stage of our journey where we are planning the next stages of the project. One key element in our travels has been the documentary we are making. We have gathered over 60 hours of footage and about 30 interviews with students, teachers, and others involved in initiatives or in the educational field across these different countries. We will be visiting several other places and filming much more over the next few months. Following the end of our journey we will need about five months of editing, translating and postproduction before releasing the film. Given that we are entirely self-funded for this trip we thought we would launch a crowdfunding campaign to help us finish the film. This means we will put our project out there (on the indiegogo.com site) and hope that people who are interested will join us on this project. We hope to start this campaign in the middle of May and will put more information about this over the next few weeks. We would love to have your help in this and spreading the word. If there is anyone keen on helping us (fund-raising, with the documentary, any aspect of this blog website or any other part of this journey) do get in touch. We are getting together a team of editors, translators, transcribers, musicians, sound mixers, web designers and programmers so we are very keen to hear from you if you are keen!

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“What we need are Grandmother’s Universities”

“What we need are Grandmother’s Universities”

Posted by on Mar 21, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

Grandparent’s school, Quechua village near Lamas, Peru, photo still from film footage by Udi

In Carol Black’s 2010 critical education documentary, Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden there is one particular quote that has returned to me again and again. It is something that Vandana Shiva, the internationally renowned eco-feminist, physicist and activist says at one point during the film: “What we need are Grandmother’s Universities. All over the world.”

Whilst the film brings up a series of profoundly important points that urgently need to be critically reflected on, this quote by Vandana Shiva was something that I kept thinking about. I had read much of her work in the past – on bio-patenting and its disastrous effects on local communities and also her writings of ‘monocultures of the mind’, or how schooling tends to encourage singular and universal ways of thinking and learning, rather than encouraging diversity and plurality. All of the writing I have encountered from Vandana Shiva is provocative, political and poetic. I am a fan. While I was not surprised at her being included in the film as a speaker, I was surprised to hear of her particular focus on higher education – with grandparents as taking the central role of the leading teachers and thinkers.

I could clearly relate to the logic of her argument. I knew something of the importance of Elders, especially within indigenous communities. I also feel deeply about the devalued place that grandparents and the elderly generally hold within so-called industrialized societies. During this journey, Udi and I have come to understand much more of the importance of knowledge and experience that can/should be valued from grandparents and Elders in communities. We encountered the significance of this from the very beginning of our journey, during our time in southern Alberta, with the Blackfoot community.  We learned about the traumatic experiences of the past, the processes of healing in the present and the future of Blackfoot language and knowledge that is kept but also re-generated and re-claimed with the support and encouragement of Elders.

Interview with Duane Mistaken Chief, Blackfoot Elder and Blackfoot language teacher at Red Crow Community College, photo still from footage by Udi

Interview with Narcisse Blood, Black Elder, curriculum writer for Blackfoot Pedagogy and teacher at Red Crow Community CollegeCurrently, the Elders of the Blackfoot community actively participate in the teaching and learning process within Red Crow College.

Not only were the Elders active in the preparation of the curriculum (Udi has described in previous posts the inspiring story of the repatriated beaver bundle and how this led to the ‘Blackfoot learning with the land’ curriculum that Ryan Heavyhead and his wife Adrienne developed through their own learning of how to traditionally bring beaver bundle ceremony back into practice), they teach and also declare and provide their own degrees which are not provided by the University of Lethbridge. For example, Ryan Heavyhead is recognized as having a PhD in Blackfoot ways of knowing from Blackfoot Elders that is not recognized by the University of Lethbridge.

Ryan and Adrienne, explaining their own Blackfoot learning as keepers of the Beaver Bundle and how this translated into Blackfoot Studies at Red Crow Community College, photo still from footage by Udi

During our time visiting with Pratec, in Peru, this understanding was furthered. Greatly. Udi has described some of this in his post on the Quechua grandfather coming from Wayku (the Quechua village next to Lamas) to teach the Quechua children and young people more about the sacredness and depth of knowledge that is within the forest of El Monte. The grandfather’s knowledge and the Quechua cosmovision was demonstrated by the tobacco ritual he offered to purify each of our bodies as we entered the forest that was once one of the most sacred hunting grounds of the Quechua Lamas. This process of purification is also a process of respect toward the guardian of the forest. It is an act of reciprocity to also be looked after safely – and previously, to ensure a successful hunt.

Quechua Elder providing tobacco purification ritual, El Monte, near Tarapoto, Peru, photo still from footage by Udi

The grandfather also offered many stories of particular plants and animals, how they act as different types of medicines and how we can interact with them, as we ventured through the forest.

Quechua Elder teaching us, telling stories about trees, plants in the forest in El Monte, photo still from footage by Udi

photo still from footage by Udi

I remember noticing his ease of walking through the forest, his feet bare, his body more deeply connected to the Earth. For Udi and for me, we would have liked many more hours of time with him there in the forest, to hear his stories and deep knowledge he has with the living beings that make up the forest. The encounter that we did have, with his knowledge and story-telling, made the forest come alive. I felt a sense of the soul of each individual being in the forest as we passed through in a new way that I had never experienced.

The day before we visited El Monte, Lucho had taken us to a ‘grandparents school’ in a Quechua village 45 minutes outside of Lamas. On our way to the village, I heard Vandana Shiva’s quote echo in my head, and I wondered how much the experience would resonate with her vision.

It was a hot afternoon. The sky was cloudless and the sun felt relentless. We sat with a family in the village as we waited for the grandparents’ gathering to begin. There were five or so children, boys and girls, and a mother and father of three of these children. The mother was molding a bowl from wet clay, her two young daughters helping – one watching and the other starting her own. The bowls would be used during each meal once dried in the hot sun.

photo still from footage by Udi

photo still from footage by Udi

The father had taken a large palm branch and was using a machete to cut and twist various leaves for weaving. His son came over and started to weave the palm leaves with his father helping him, giving him instructions and showing him what to do when needed. The woven palms would be used as mats (typically about 4ft by 6ft – or 1.5m by 2m) to sit on, to put on the walls or even used as walls. Udi had a conversation with the father about what was being taught (weaving and pottery) and how important it was for them as a family but also as a community.

photo still from footage by Udi

The grandparents ‘school’ occurred several times per week, after the hours of formal schooling, offering different learning experiences for the children, but also adults, that were not offered within the school. These various activities, central to Quechua ways of knowing and being are not a priority within the walls of the classroom in spite of the claim of Quechua ‘inter-cultural’ learning and teaching that is offered in all schools in the area.

photo still from footage by Udi

Photo still from footage by Udi

After nearly an hour, some kids came and ushered us into a house. We entered a large room and were shown to a seat along a long piece of wood that had become a bench. There were 5 women sitting against woven mats that were lining one wall. I guessed they were aged between 30 and 70. There were 9 children in the room, girls and boys, the youngest looking about 4 years of age. Colourful threads of yarn were tied around posts and several girls were beginning to weave – belts, blankets, skirts, etc.. Another little girl was working with a very old woman, the grandmother of the ‘school’ to spin cotton – again for different types of clothing. Several younger boys were on the far side of the room with the grandfather, weaving mats from palm leaves, similarly to what we had just observed outside.

photo still from footage by Udi

The grandmother came to speak with us, her face in a constant smile, tremendous warmth emerging from each line on her beautiful face, touching all parts of me. Udi had a difficult time understanding her Spanish and once Lucho came in we were able to converse more easily. The little girl who was spinning cotton seemed nervous next to us and I was told later that I had cat eyes which scared her. We moved around the room and were shown slowly and deliberately the different forms of artistic and practical materials that were emerging. There was gentle interaction between everyone in the room and quite intense concentration. These gatherings happen at least 3 times per week.

photo still from footage by Udi

A little while later, the grandmother took us outside to show us her medicinal garden. I was really excited to learn from her as I have always been keen to learn much more about natural healing. She gave us a tour, describing the great variety of plants outside. Her wisdom and warmth were captivating – as were her descriptions of the multiple plants and their healing benefits.

photo still from footage by Udi

There were many there that supported all aspects of pregnancy – from helping with fertility and conception, to health during pregnancy, healing during miscarriage, to reducing pain during delivery, to speeding up the birthing process. There were plants there to be used as anesthetics, antiseptics, pain-killers and basic nutrients rich in various vitamins and minerals. She told us that in addition to weaving and spinning that the children come to work with her out in the garden, cultivating and nourishing the plants – whilst learning about the various ways they heal and nourish them. I wanted to attend this school – this grandmother’s university!

photo still from footage by Udi

Weaving hats, mats, walls from palm leaves; spinning and weaving wool; embroidering complicated and colourful patterns onto materials for skirts, tops; cultivating medicines for every health complication, particularly for women; cultivating foods from their chacra for sustenance and nourishment… I know I could greatly benefit from such a wealth of knowledge. I doubted that either grandparent could read or write in our measured forms of literacy. Yet – the forms and depth of literacies I had just experienced far exceeded my own.

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Inter-weaving people and the land: Choba-Choba and Comunalidad

Inter-weaving people and the land:  Choba-Choba and Comunalidad

Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in all posts, Mexico, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments


The terms choba-choba and comunalidad come from different cultures and places (Peru and Mexico).  Yet, they share a common bond of inter-connection.  In this post, Udi and I tell a bit about how we came to learn something of these different (but similar) ways of being and understanding the world.

Village outside of Lamas, Peru, photo by Kelly

Kelly:

Our first morning in Lamas, in the Northern Amazonian region of Peru, Udi and I walked the ten minutes from the Hospedaje Girasoles guesthouse (highly recommended by the way), through the far end of town and down the reddish-coloured mud hill that is surrounded by forest on one side of the road, to the entrance of Waman Wasi.  There was still a cool breeze in the air but the tropical sun was gathering strength.

Road down to Waman Wasi, photo by Udi

We were meeting Gregorio, one of the three main members of staff at Waman Wasi, who was taking us to several chacras that morning a few kilometres outside of Lamas – to meet with families working the land through choba-choba.  Gregorio lives in Wayku, the Quechua Lamas section of the town and travels often to meet with different Quechua families around the region.

View of Wayku village from the top of Lamas, photo by Udi

The evening before, there had been a brief introduction to the cosmovision and activities involved with ‘choba-choba’ and its association with ‘chacra’ – during Lucho’s overview of Waman Wasi’s work presented to a group of European students.  Udi and I had an understanding that the ‘chacra’ was similar to the ‘milpa’ in Mexico –  land is cultivated in a way that imitates and is intimately connected to natural processes.  In a chacra or milpa, Rather than planting one crop as tends to be the agricultural norm, different types of foods are planted together (typically maize, beans, squash and chili) with the intention of nourishing the land as much as to nourish those eating from it.

Steep hill of chacra cultivated through choba-choba

Choba-choba to the Quechua Lamas is the way that family members and friends came together to cultivate the land, dividing up responsibilities in accordance to ability and strength.  Through choba-choba, there is no need to pay anyone from the outside to help with planting and cultivation as choba-choba entails reciprocity and abundance.  The idea is that all that is needed is already there.  Every person, regardless of age and gender gives to the process and also receives.

Outside the wooden gate of Waman Wasi, Gregorio stopped a passing motor taxi that is basically a seat for 2-3 (depending on size) positioned on the back of a motor bike.  Udi and I hoped in and the motor-bike-taxi sped away.  The warm breeze enlivened our senses with smells of a myriad of plants and trees as houses and buildings almost immediately disappeared, the road windings its way through hills and valleys of intense green.  We stopped 25 minutes or so later and Gregorio led us down a dirt road, telling Udi that we would be walking for a good half an hour or so…

Along the walk, Udi and Gregorio were deep in conversation, about the nuances of the land in the area, about different agricultural processes and techniques of growing food, about the continual deforestation in the region, about the insidiousness of mining companies and the weakness of the government condoning their exploitative modes of intrusion and extraction, about the importance of the chacra and choba-choba, about different species of plants that we passed along the way.  I was envious of Udi being able to converse so freely in Spanish.  I was catching about 15% of the conversation and yearned for much more.  Udi generously broke the flow of conversation many times to translate some of the missing details.

Gregorio describing chacra plants with Udi and I, photo by Kelly

View along the walk – chacra and mountains, valleys, photo by Kelly

A thatched house came into visibility amidst thick trees after at least 45 minutes of walking, and we stopped to chat with a young woman sitting outside.  Her infant little girl was sleeping and we spoke until there was a soft cry emerging from her house.  She offered us chicha the drink of maize/corn and water that is consumed in every type of context in Peru – restaurants, houses, schools…

Following Udi and Gregorio into the village, photo by Kelly

We walked further, through thick forest and down steep chacras where a view of the surrounding landscape was alive with undulating hills of greens, a diversity of foods growing within them.  Suddenly there were people – children and adults, male and female, at the bottom of a steep hill, in a line, working with what looked like small sickles, on the ground.

Choba-choba, photo by Kelly

After a series of holas and handshakes, we sat down and spoke with the eldest members of the family.  They spoke to us about what they were doing.  They were planting beans and maize on that day, but would return later to plant chillies and squash when the moon was right.  All of the children and young people were related within the family.  On most days, the children and young people went to school in the mornings and came back to work on the chacras in the afternoons.  This was the first planting that had been done in this chacra for several years as it had been lying fallow to re-nourish. Chacra and choba-choba occur in alignment with lunar cycles, a sophisticated and ancient form of knowledge which is ignored by the vast majority of the world.

Sitting and chatting with some members of the family, photo still by Kelly

More chicha was offered, the taste was refreshing, slightly sweet.  We said good-bye after 45 minutes or so and the elder man, the father of the family, walked us through another thickly forested area to visit with another choba-choba.

Chicha, photo by Kelly

We walked for another 30 or so minutes, up and down steep hills, some forested, some chacras, my legs becoming increasingly tired under the increasing strength of the sun.  Another line of people came into view – different ages, male and female, near the top of a steep hill.  The arrangement was similar, some people were actively pressing their sickles into the ground, digging up the dirt and putting in different small plants and seeds whilst others were resting.  There were again a series of friendly holas, warm smiles and handshakes.

Second choba-choba, photo still by Kelly

Within both choba-chobas was an atmosphere of joy and conviviality.  The heat, which at that time was intense, did not seem to increase anyone’s irritability.  Rather, there was lots of laughter and joking around.  This is not to say that the work everyone was doing was not difficult.  It was very difficult, exhaustive and physically demanding.

Choba-choba conviviality, photo still by Udi

The atmosphere of doing choba-choba work is within a framework of sharing – not just within the family – but with other families in the area and also with a deep sense of reverence to the nourishment of the land.  This reciprocal form of nourishment has been at the cultural core of Quechua life and is a far cry from industrialized forms of agriculture that is extractive and dependent on monetary exchange, rather than nourishment to all those humans and non-human beings involved.

The term choba choba is a Quechua word that means ‘hair with hair’ (choba means ‘hair’ in Quechua Lamas).  The significance of the meaning of choba-choba comes from the interweaving of hair braids that occurs during marriages.  This notion is extended to the interweaving of people, communities and the land.   One choba-choba inter-weaving of the land with people influences the next choba-choba and so on, strengthening the social fabric of communities.  Gregorio, through his work with Waman Wasi, helps to strengthen choba-choba, providing materials (sickles) when needed, visiting continually and sharing fiesta and laughter.

Udi:

Cut to the deep green undulating hills above the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. This is where we met Zapotec anthropologist and community activist Jaime Martinez Luna in his village of Gualetao birthplace of the only indigenous Mexican President, Benito Juárez, serving five terms between 1858 and 1872. We first came across Jaime in the chapter he wrote for a book called New World of Indigenous Resistance. The book is a collection of chapters by writers across Latin America in response to transcribed interviews with Noam Chomsky on the history and continuing legacy of colonialism, state and corporate power in the continent, and the effects on and responses by indigenous communities.  Interestingly, the majority of the chapters focus on education.   We found this book in a wonderful bookshop, Amate, in Oaxaca.  Jaime kindly replied to our email inviting us to his village, nestled high up in the hills an hour outside of the Oaxaca.

photo by Kelly

To get to Guelatao, we take a taxi 5 miles or so outside Oaxaca city to the ‘place to get a colectivo to Guelatao’ which apparently every taxi driver in the city knows.  We are dropped off rather suddenly in a car park that has a long bench in the corner.  We join the other 3 people and wait.  After 30 minutes or so of conversations with a couple of the people also waiting and the woman running the small shop in the corner of the car park (selling tamales and sodas), a car pulls up.  We are both given the front seat and so configure our bodies in a way so as to endure the hour of driving.  After only 5 minutes we have left signs of human habitation behind.  The air is clear, the sky is more blue – we pass steep hillsides – evergreens and scrubby trees filling it all in.  We notice evidence of mining in the distance and recall seeing in the news how two Oaxacan activists were recently killed protesting mining activities.  There are also milpas (or chacra to the Quechua in Peru) – golden maize that have dried on their stalks.  We are continually reminded of the intense importance of maize here – fiestas, foods of all kinds for all meals of the day…

Drive to Guelatao – view from front seat of colectivo-taxi, photo by Kelly

We are tightly positioned together in the front seat for over an hour.  Although uncomfortable, it gives us a much better view than had we sat anywhere else.  The car stops quite suddenly.  We have arrived at the entrance to the Guelatao village.  There is a small road leading up a steep hill.  We immediately walk to the top of the hill to check out the village.

Mural and bust of Benito Juarez, Guelatao, photo by Kelly

After briefly capturing the beautiful view which stretches across miles of rolling hills and mountains, we explore the lagoon, the government building, the giant statue of Benito Juarez and mural – we ask a woman at the shop where to find Jaime.  His office is just around the corner where there is a sign ‘Foundacion Comunalidad’.

photo by Udi

Jaime is inside and invites us in.  He is very tall and lanky.  His voice is deep and melodious, Leonard Cohen-like.  We are not surprised discovering later that he is also a singer, a musician and has published many cds.  Jaime speaks with a different Spanish, very slowly, enunciating each syllable with purpose.  Kelly is even able to understand much of what he is saying!  We arrange to meet later, to record a conversation by the laguna.  In the meantime, we find a restaurant to sit and write and enjoy some home-cooked Zapotec food.

Jaime, walking along the laguna in Guelatao, photo still by Kelly

During the hours we spent with Jaime, he taught us a great deal about the key word we had discovered across chapters in the book he contributed to, and also in a number of conversations we had across Latin America — comunalidad. As Jaime says in this book:

Comunalidad is a way of understanding life as being permeated with spirituality, symbolism, and a greater integration with nature. It is one way of understanding that Man is not the center, but simply a part of this great natural world. It is here that we can distinguish the enormous difference between Western and indigenous thought. Who is at the center – only one, or all?  The individual, or everyone?

Recorded conversation with Jaime, photo still by Udi

Jaime, like many others we talked to in our journey in Canada, Mexico and Peru, were highly critical of the school as an institution that has historically destroyed the cultures of original peoples across the Americas. As Gustavo Esteva put it, in his own contribution to this same book:

The Indigenous State Forum of Oaxaca in 1997 stated that the school had been the main instrument for the destruction of indigenous cultures, dispossessing them of their way of being and seeing the world to ‘Westernise’ then.

To counter the destructive effects of the school indigenous teachers and community activists have been advocating for interculturalidad in schools, an intercultural education that grounds students in and in between two cultures. A key concept in this struggle for intercultural education in Oaxaca has been comunalidad a word that the State Education Act of 1995 added as a 4th guiding principle of education, alongside democracy, nationalism and humanism. (Jaime comments in his chapter that this may have been a response of local government fearful of the Zapatista uprising of 1994).

Jaime’s Fundacion Comunalidad is working with schools, teachers to re-learn comunalidad as a notion, a practice, a cosmovision.  The emphasis is on bringing this into all aspects of the school, not only in the teaching and learning, but in the ways that people relate to each other – within the school and beyond the boundaries of the school – with the community and with the land and non-human world around them.  Jaime explained to us sitting by the laguna in Guelatao that comunalidad consists of four interrelated ingredients:

1. Territory

Territory involves knowing the land where one is, the place that sustains the community, its history and stories, its plants and animals, not unlike what the Blackfoot where also teaching at Red Crow around place-based learning and traditional foods.

2. Work

Work involves the different kinds of jobs and skills that people from the community take part in and which is not necessarily only about an individuals’ work and skills. This can also be about collective or cooperative forms of work such as the choba choba in Peru, or the mutirão in Brazil.

3. The organisation of the community

The organisation of community life in indigenous communities and around Oaxaca happens through the various assemblies and individual roles of responsibility, cargo, which take charge of different aspects of the community.

4. The fiesta.

Lastly, the fiesta is the celebration of work, of the community and the land, also having as Jaime points out, a spiritual dimension. It is the culmination of community life and comunalidad.

Poster outside of Jaime’s office, Guelatao, photo by Kelly

Kelly:

There is much more for us to learn about both choba-choba and comunalidad.  By being immersed for the time that we were in Oaxaca, in Guelatao and in Chiapas and hearing repeatedly the term comunalidad, we began to learn, to feel, what it meant – the significance of it.  Then by walking and pausing within the chacras around Lamas with Gregorio, we learned more about not only what comunalidad means, but could better comprehend and value the cooperative and communal gift-practice of choba-choba.

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Learning by running… across the prairie with students and teachers…

Learning by running… across the prairie with students and teachers…

Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in all posts, Canada, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

Although our main focus during our journey is to higher education initiatives emerging from indigenous scholars, community activists and artists, throughout our time in Canada, Mexico and Peru we also encountered and learned from teachers, students, community activists and organisations working to promote these indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing in primary, middle and secondary schools.

Our first experience visiting in/with primary, middle and secondary schools was in the Blackfoot Kainai (Blood Band) Reserve in Alberta. It unexpectedly came through the form of running – across open prairie.

Although this post may seem a bit dated, reflecting back on a particular day under the Albertan sun in October, 2012, I thought to write about how it stands so strongly in my memory – as a form of learning with my body.  Writing now as I am several months later, in South America, where I am far from fluent in Spanish or Portuguese, I have been forced to rely on learning beyond language.  I will be writing much more about this in coming posts, but first I thought to write about the day I remember the most vividly of all the days spent in southern Canada – the day I ran and walked alongside hundreds of children and adults across the open prairie on the Blood Reserve.  When I started writing this post, it came out in a fast flowing rush (and it is therefore longer than planned).  The memories of that day are so sharp – the bluest of blue skies, my skin pulsing from the heat of the hot dry sun, the sounds of the wheat-coloured grasses crunching beneath my feet,  of increasingly heavy and laboured breathing the further we got into the race – and of the excitement of voices, young and old, encouraging the completion of a physically demanding challenge…  I think the clarity of that day has something to do with feeling really alive – with feeling free… with engaging together in activity that defies age, background, gender…

A couple of days before the race, we met Narcisse Blood and his wife Alvine Mountain Horse for dinner in Fort MacLeod.  Alvine, a middle school teacher at the Kainai Middle School on the reserve, and PhD student at the University of Calgary, is a mother of four, grandmother of many.  She is also a long distance runner and has been since she was a girl.  Alvine seemed tired during our dinner, unsurprisingly, as she is busy doing so many things.  However, after I mentioned something about my decision to attend university on the east coast of the US because of being recruited at that time for running (and high jumping), her energy returned and we were suddenly very engaged in an animated conversation – stories about running, about racing, about coaching.  Alvine told us of her most recent 10km race (just three days before) where she had fallen badly, injuring her knee and her face. She was concerned about her ability to do well at the upcoming annual race celebrating the signing of the Treaty – two days later.  Her knee was still swollen and there was still bruising on her face.  Yet, I could very clearly see the fire in her to run, to compete, to participate.

Alvine Mountain Horse and Kelly at the start of the race, photo by Udi

I think once someone becomes a runner, develops a love for running, it is somehow always there, seeping into the core of your being.  So far on this journey, I have done far less running than I would have liked, I not only miss it, often I long for it.  I see someone running on the edges of a park, or alongside the sea, and I wish I was there, feeling the air on my skin, seeing the ground blur beneath my feet, wanting to experience the tiredness and the simultaneous satisfaction that comes with running.  This passion for running is not universally shared, but between those that do share it, there is an immediate connection.  I found this connection with Alvine.  At the end of our lovely meal together, I also found myself signing up for the annual cross-country race taking place in two days.  The 3-mile or 5-mile race (we could choose) was to be across prairie, finishing on the grounds of the Kainai primary, middle and secondary schools on the Blood Reserve.  This particular day of the annual run was to be held on the 125th anniversary of Treaty Seven which signed the reservation territory, amongst other laws and regulations, to the Blackfoot.

I was really nervous arriving to the Kainai Middle School that Friday morning and timidly asked for directions to find Alvine.  There was chaotic and nervous energy that always comes with organizing so many children and teenagers.  At least 10 buses were parked outside from different schools in the area – members of other Blackfoot bands and non-Blackfoot schools as well.  Teachers were trying to organize the hundreds of school-aged children and young people who were excitedly putting on their running shoes, trying to find out where to pin on their numbers.

The dry, open sky and vast horizon of southern Alberta reminded me very much of Klamath Falls, Oregon where I grew up, and I was suddenly feeling the nervousness I would have felt over 20 years ago, competing as I once did in high school, for the cross-country running team.  Only now, I was not very fit – an obvious outsider – joining hundreds of children, young people and adults from the area who participate in this annual event.  Udi was taking it all in as someone who has not only ever run a cross-country race, but has also never witnessed such an event.

After asking several teachers, I eventually found Alvine in her classroom.  She was hurriedly trying to gather her own belongings for the race – numbers to pin on our tops, lists of student names, her tee-shirt.  I noticed many different Blackfoot words written neatly on the blackboard.  She walked with me out of the school and the three of us climbed into our car.  She directed us for a few miles, from paved to unpaved road and finally to a field where there was no road at all.  I looked around to see hundreds of school-aged children, from what I guessed were 6 years old, through the end of secondary school (18 years old) and many adults (teachers).  It was the first time in my life I had ever run with such a diverse and disparate group, all associated with schools in the area.  Any school-related running race in my time was always separated quite rigidly into different age groups.  I do not remember ever running alongside any of my teachers.

photo by Udi

We all gathered together, finding a place to stand where we could.  One of the teachers from the high school gave us all directions, to run alongside the flags he had just stuck into the ground early that morning.  He told us to be careful of the uneven surface.  Alvine looked at me and said not to wait for her, that I should try to win, that she was still injured and not sure how fast she would run.  I told her I was completely out of shape anyway and happy to run with her.

photo by Udi

The gun went off, many children took off fast, excited about what it was that we were doing.  I noticed that many of them looked completely unprepared to run – some in jeans, shoes that we clearly not made for running.  Yet they all seemed very happy about running several miles in the hot sun on unknown terrain.  There was no one whining, which I would have expected from some of the children and teenagers. I ran alongside Alvine for about a half mile or so and noticed I was still feeling surprising fine.  I also noticed that I wanted to run ahead and try and catch a couple of the female adults who were not so far ahead.  The competitive streak in me came right back and was strongly encouraged by Alvine.  She kept whispering between laboured breaths – “go ahead, try to catch them, try to win”.  I laughed with her encouragement and decided to, although I also felt a pull to stay with her and run alongside for the duration.

Half mile or so into the race, photo by Udi

I ran ahead at the top of a small hill coming out of the coulee.  I noticed two women in front of me and set out to catch them.  One of my favourite training activities during my cross-country high school days was when my coach would start us all separately – one minute or so apart.  The goal was to try and catch as many people as you could over a 3 mile course.  It was the same here, only 20 years later.

photo by Udi

I picked up speed for the rest of the race.  I chatted to many children and teenagers along the way.  Many of them would walk and then sprint, rather than running continuously.  I encouraged them to run slowly – to run with me, and a couple girls (I guessed were about 13) did.  We made light conversation that got increasingly more difficult as we all approached the school.  I noticed another adult female runner in front of me, nearing the school and I decided to catch up with her before the finish line, which I did (just barely).  Udi was at the finish line, clapping, yelling and filming.

Finishing the race, photo by Udi

One of the top finishers of the race, photo by Udi

I was exhausted – but felt exhilarated as I often do after a challenging run.  I ran back to find Alvine, to encourage her and run with her the rest of the way.  She was happy that she finished, her knee really hurting her.  After the race we walked around the school buildings, chatting with Alvine and some of the other teachers – Alvine was proudly introducing us to people, saying that the race had become ‘international’ with us being there.  A warmth and joy pervaded the environment through vocal encouragement and generosity of food and care.  It was important to all the teachers there that everyone who participated in and witnessed the race be provided a full meal.  Everything was free.  Several of the students came to speak with Alvine.  It was clear how very loved and admired she is by students of all ages and teachers.

The entire event contrasted strongly with running events (races) that I participated in – in the past.  The diversity of ages running alongside one another was very powerful, particularly as there was so much encouragement – from young to old and old to young.  Although there was a competitive air, it was friendly.  I wondered how much of this conviviality had to do with the very reason we were all there running and connecting with the ground beneath our feet –– in celebration of the sovereignty that exists on this part of the land, the Blackfoot territory.

Overall winner of the race, photo by Udi

An awards ceremony began soon after in the high school gym with a Blackfoot prayer being spoken by one of the Blackfoot Elders in the community.  Udi and I were both inspired to see the hand-made spears (rather than trophies) that were given to the top male and female (of all ages) finishers of the 3-mile and 5-mile races.  The spears were about 2 meters long, hand-carved, with leather straps and fathers wrapped around them at three different sections.  The end of the spear looked as if it had been carved from obsidian.  I received a medal for being a top-3 female finisher in the over-29 age group, which I was rather pleased about (perfect souvenir!).

After the race, Udi and I explored the schools and talked with more teachers and students.  The insides of the school buildings were beautifully constructed and decorated, mixing the functionality of a standard North American high school with Blackfoot structures and designs. Central in the building is the library which has a large steel teepee emerging from its center forming and ceremonial space for lectures, events and reading.  Alvine introduced us to Olivia Tailfeathers, the music teacher for all three schools.  She writes her own music as well.  She gave us one of her CDs and we are hoping to use a couple of the tracks as music for the film we will be editing on Red Crow Community College.

Kainai Middle School library, photo by Udi

Interior of teepee in Kainai Middle School library, photo by Udi

Alvine is fluent in the Blackfoot language and is committed to the teaching that she is able to do, in spite of how busy she is. When we left the Kainai Middle School that day, we drove Alvine to Lethbridge to meet with Narcisse and Ryan Heavy Head.  Along the way, Alvine told us more about her own learning of Blackfoot and the ways in which she has been teaching the language to children and adults.  She herself had learned from her grandmother who did not speak any English.  Alvine’s grandmother had taken her outside on long walks, teaching her words with the land.  The Blackfoot language emerged through the land, and this was how Alvine was taught the Blackfoot language.  She discovered that it was also the best way for her to teach the language.

In the school where Alvine taught we were especially excited about the project she told us about which brought the knowledge of local plants and their uses into the school. In this language teaching/learning approach, students had to discover the plants growing around the school area, find out their Blackfoot names and their traditional use.  Alongside Blackfoot language teaching, Alvine coaches running.  Being outside, on and with the land is a deep significance that crosses both of these very different reasons for and approaches to, learning.

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