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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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Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 2)

Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 2)

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in all posts, Chile, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments

Through Grimaldo Rengifo’s connection in Lima with Pratec, we met Elena Pardo in Cusco. Elena is a warm, committed and generous person. After two long conversations, she invited us to attend a Quechua ceremony at the winter solstice (December 20) in the ruins of Saqsaywaman above Cusco, an amazing and unforgettable experience. Knowing we would be in Chile in late February, Elena also invited us to join her in a visit to a Mapuche school she has been in contact for a number of years. Actually her invitation was even more enticing, to join her at a ceremony with some Mapuche people by the Lago Arco Iris (rainbow lake) near the Icalma volcano! Needless to say we were excited about this and faithful to our principle of being open to what arises we took the thirty-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires across the border to Temuco, Chile, about 8 or so hours south from Santiago. We will write about our learning and experiences of ceremony later, but this was a moving event and spiritual exchange between Quechua and Mapuche Elders.

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Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school

In our third day in Chile we were invited by Elena’s friend Don Roberto, who was also at the ceremony, to visit Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school a few kilometres outside Temuco and be part of two days of meetings with Elena, teachers, parents and students before the school year begun. The school has around 90 students from the surrounding communities and 14 teachers, some Mapuche, a number of whom we met at the ceremony a few days before. Mapuche language, history and culture is taught at the traditional ruca building made of mud and straw which sits by the rest of the school’s buildings. The other buildings are also designed so as not to have corners and the desks are positioned in clusters so that the authority of teacher is not emphasised as in traditional classrooms.

The meetings took place in the ruca and we were treated to a warm and overwhelmingly generous Mapuche hospitality. Around fifty of us from young students to the village elder sat in a circle and greeted each other with hugs and a single kiss on the cheek. When latecomers arrived they also went around the whole circle doing the same. Everyone spoke and introduced themselves. We were left with a warm, affectionate glow and a deep connection to all in the room. A far cry from the often inhospitable conferences, seminars and staff meetings we are used to!

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Trañi Trañi, which has been around for over a decade, is considered a model intercultural school in the region. In the south of Chile where most of the Mapuche live and make up a considerable percentage of the population and ownership of land there are around two hundred such intercultural schools. These are a new phenomena only beginning to emerge after the Pinochet era (from 1973 to 1990) and hundreds of years of cultural oppression. Such intercultural schools are beginning to emerge all over the Americas. We visited the wonderful school in the Blood Reserve in Alberta where Kelly ran with teachers and students in the annual race across the prairies. We visited another school in Lamas within the Quechua Lama community, also going on a school trip to the forest with the students, teachers and a local elder who knew the forest. Across these schools and the hundreds or thousands of others like it in the continent there is a constant tension between teaching the national curriculum and the incorporation of local ways of knowing, doing, being. National curriculums tend to offer learning that is completely divorced from indigenous language, culture and history, suppressing these in favor of a Euro-centric national identity.

Masters of two cultures

The commitment to and desire for a truly intercultural education on the part of teachers, students and parents also varied. It takes remarkable individuals, people like those we referred to here, masters of two cultures to really inspire others of the importance of interculturalidad. We saw how rare or transient were the spaces for learning about or sharing the competencies of being intercultural.

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We came across some wonderful experiences for training teachers such as the course in Blackfoot Ways of Knowing run by Narcisse Blood and Cynthia Chambers (professor of education) at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. (see the posts we have written on this here and here). Elena also organised a course along similar principles at the University of Cusco for teachers, based on Quechua ways of knowing. These initiatives deeply impacted the teachers who took the course opening their lives to inhabiting this space in-between. But both these courses only ran once and were not made regular by these universities. As both Cynthia and Elena related to me, there is a deep resistance of the traditional university to accommodating other ways of knowing.

At Red Crow Community College the Kainai Studies course (one of the most advanced course on indigenous ways of knowing we have visited) the inspiring effects of the course on a number of students from the College we talked to were clear to see. Many spoke of rediscovering their history, their identity, of reconnecting with their ancestors, with grandparents, their land, and most importantly with a sense of pride and value of a way of life that had been oppressed for many decades. But the course has also been taken by non-Blackfoot, people who came to find a renewed connection and responsibility to the place they live in.

In the course of these seven months of traveling and learning from these different initiatives I have become convinced that we are all going to have to learn to be intercultural. We will learn to inhabit a cultural space between the ways we have been educated to see and be in the world within our industrial societies and other ways of relating to place and community, many of which have existed for thousands of years. These other ways may not necessarily be entirely Native or indigenous cultural practices, although we can learn much from them. But wherever they come from, in building sustainable societies we will need to master practices, other principles and values that reconnect us to place, each other and ourselves.

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Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 1)

Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 1)

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in all posts, Freda Diesing School of Northwest Art, Peru, PRATEC, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments




Across our travels in Latin America, we came across a wonderful word and practice, interculturalidad (the process of being intercultural). The term is common in Latin America amongst those engaged in educational initiatives that try to include, or bring together, different cultural knowledges and ways of living.

Currently, attempts to integrate interculturidad learning involves combining two very different cultural worldviews – most often those originating in Europe and found in “settler” or so-called ‘modern’ societies and those that originate in diverse, particularly indigenous cultures across the Americas. I can only begin to imagine what it might be like to have to learn and master two dramatically different languages, ways of seeing and being in the world, sets of values and forms of conduct.

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Quechua intercultural school in Merillo village, outside of Lamas, Peru




The closest to interculturidad learning I have personally experienced was being raised in Rio de Janeiro and learning the local Carioca (locality of Rio) language and ways of being and then moving to the UK at a young age where I had to pick up the various nuances of the British English language and behaviour, the values and etiquette, humour and cultural references. Aside from the language, it was not such a great leap, other than some significant differences around emotional expression and interpersonal relations, but still…

I have gained a kind of competence in these two places, Rio and the UK, navigating through day-to-day life in each place in the way a local might. But these ways of knowing, being, relating, at least within the circles I was raised, are not so very different in their underpinning cosmovision, their fundamental way of seeing and being in the world. This is not such a leap of interculturidad as say between Blackfoot and North European culture that settled and colonized North America, or Quechua and South European culture that settled and colonized South America.

Amongst our journey we have been lucky to have met individuals who are masters of considerably distinct cultures. People who have been living amidst this European-derived settler/colonizing culture and who have also deeply studied these ways of knowing and being in the world, often at a university level. At the same time they have not been completely seduced by this way of seeing/being in the world and have also a deep knowledge and identification with the ways of their indigenous ancestors. These individuals live their lives in this in-between space of interculturidad and many are also deeply committed to teaching others how to inhabit this space.




Encountering mastery of two distinct cultures during our journey

We saw the mastery of two distinct cultures in the re-emergence of Blackfoot Ways of Knowing at Red Crow Community College in Alberta, Canada, with Ryan Heavyhead, Duane Mistaken Chief, Narcisse Blood, Alvine Mountainhorse, Ramona Bighead and Cynthia Chambers. In the field of art we experienced the mastery of two worlds at the Freda Diesing School of Art in Northern British Columbia with Dempsey Bob and other First Nations teachers such as Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dean Heron. We witnessed this in the comunalidad work of Zapotec anthropologist and activist Jaime Luna in the hills surrounding the city of Oaxaca in Mexico.

In Peru doing inspiring and courageous work in this sphere of interculturidad were all of those we met as part of the Pratec network (in Lima, Lamas and Cusco although there are many other Pratec organisations in other parts of the country).

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Elena Pardo has not only mastered two cultures, she has developed interculturidad education that has influenced all of Pratec. Elena had worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before leaving and founding her own organisation CEPROSI (the Centro de Promocion y Salud Integral), part of the PRATEC (Projecto Andino Tecnologias Campesinas) network, which is active in the promotion and support of Quechua cultural knowledge and practices in agriculture, schools and in the field of health. Her work focuses especially on the food, ceremony and spirituality of the Quechua peoples in and around Cuzco, trying to integrate these fully into schools beyond the mere tokenistic approach that is most often taken.  




Experiences of interculturidad education with Pratec

Pratec generally aims to support and strengthen genuine interculturidad and we learned much about this when speaking with Grimaldo in Lima and then spending nearly a week in Lamas, at Waman Wasi. During the days we spent visiting the work of Waman Wasi, in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we visited different villages and schools, and school trips, accompanied by either Leonardo or Gregorio who had been working at Waman Wasi for a number of years. One day we went to a Quechua Lama village a few kilometres away from Lamas to visit a school Wama Wasi had been working with. We were met there by a lively non-Quechua Lama teacher who was engaging and well-liked by the students.

It was just before Christmas and the students, ranging in age between 10 – 12 had been making Christmas trees from paper and branches when we arrived.

School in Quechua Lamas village, Lamas, Peru, photo by Udi.

This teacher had been working with Waman Wasi for some time and was open to incorporating the videos they produced on local knowledge and cultural practices into his own teaching. We observed the class watching a video Waman Wasi made with another group of children on fishing and river pollution at another Quechua Lama village. The activity of watching the video, which the school-children had to write about later, was part of the days’ curriculum which was all about the environment.

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Though the days’ teaching activities went well and the students seem to have enjoyed it we were both surprised to hear that the teacher, like many others in this region, did not speak Quechua Lama even though he had been teaching in the same village for many years. Thinking back to the school trip to El Monte, to our conversations with Leonardo, Gregorio and Elena Pardo in Cusco, we saw how important it was to have teachers that are committed to interculturidad education. Committed to being, learning and teaching between cultures.

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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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the School and El Monte

the School and El Monte

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 2 comments

Wayku, trucks ready for school trip, photo by Udi

We arrive early in the central square of Wayku, the Quechua Lamas village that is found below the town of Lamas, and wait for the trucks to arrive for the school trip. The square is next to the local bilingual secondary school (Spanish and Quechua) and the students wait outside sitting and chatting dressed in their uniform and packing their lunches in bags and rucksacks. We talk to a few of the students, but mainly we talk to Leonardo, who works at Waman Wasi in the surrounding villages and schools and who invited us to come today.  He introduces us to some of the teachers coming along today. One teaches computers at the school and is a local Quechua Lama. We had heard of these bilingual schools before, where classes are held mostly in Spanish and some in Quechua. We wondered about how these formal bilingual opportunities for children coming from Quechuan communities offered an intercultural environment, how different cultural contexts were combined within the school – and in particular, how Quechua ways of knowing were integrated and cultural practices cellebrated.

Terapoto, school trip truck, photo by Udi

Waman Wasi, part of the PRATEC network and also started initially by Grimaldo, has been practicing the approach outlined in the previous post working to strengthen and promote the values and practices associated with the chacra as well as to ways of knowing and being of Quechua Lama peoples of this region more generally. Wama Wasi had also been trying to encourage the local schools to open their doors to the communities they were inserted in, involving more the parents and grandparents in the teaching, and especially their knowledge. To this end, Wama Wasi had also been running a number of workshops with local teachers over the years to sensitise them to the surrounding cosmovision, for even if many of these teachers may themselves be Quechua Lamas, few retain the connection to this way of seeing and being in the universe.

Leonardo and Gregorio, two Quechua Lamas working in Wama Wasi who generously showed us around during our stay, spoke of how challenging it has been to engage with teachers who have been trained and culturally assimilated into another way of thinking that has tended to devalue local ways of knowing and being. A similar challenge was conveyed to us by Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, who works with Quechua communities of the high Andes. This challenge was further narrated to us by Jaime Luna Martinez, the Zapotec activist and anthropologist we talked to in Oaxaca, who is similarly trying to bring to the school the ways of knowing and being of the local Zapotec community, especially around the notion of comunalidad (see the post on this).

The two trucks arrive 30min late, they are returning from an earlier trip that day, organised by Wama Wasi with local schools, to go to the local salt mine, a few hours away by road and then an additional 8 hours on foot up to the mountains.  It is a key spiritual place for the Quechua Lamas. The salt mines, like the forested mountain region we are about to go to, is part of the Quechua Lamas ancestral hunting and gathering territory. Once a year villagers go to the salt mines to get a years worth supply of salt. The mine and the territory around it, is now threatened with being appropriated by the state under a policy of ‘conservation’ that excludes traditional uses, such as hunting and gathering medicines, and thus the caretakers of the land. This, we are told a number of times during our visit, is happening across Peru and especially to these upper Amazon mountainous regions. There was also talk that the salt mine, used collectively by the Quechua Lamas for thousands of years, was going to be taken over from this collective use and privatised by an international mining company for their own use.

The school trip was also headed to what used to be Quechua hunting and medicine gathering territory, the region of el monte, the mountain, which alongside the chacra, the field were much work life happenings cultivating a variety of plants, and the river, make up the trinity of places in Quechua Lama cosmovision. This particular el monte, lying by one of the region’s central attractions, the large Ahuashiyacu waterfall beyond Terapoto, is now a biodiversity park looked after by the local university. This dates back some two decades, coinciding with the period in which the state was fighting against the guerrillas emerging from rural areas.

The Quechua Lama computer teacher called the students to attention and read out the register so they could jump to the back of the truck. 30 students, 3 teachers, a few parents and a couple of grandparents later, the troupe packed shoulder to shoulder, standing up at the back of two small pick-up trucks chatting and excitedly screaming as we pulled away and hit the road. Kelly and I imagined health and safety procedures and professionals back in Europe and the US eyes open in disbelief staring at the unfolding scene, tightly gripping regulation manuals and consent forms. Driving across the undulating green landscape with our merry band we did not feel the clenching of officiousness, bureaucratic care or fear of litigation, instead there was the blowing wind rushing through faces smiling with the raw enjoyment of a day out. We were going to El Monte!

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke, photo by Udi

El Monte is the territory of spirits, the souls of plants and animals and of the forest itself who must be supplicated to provide for those entering it. To enter El Monte, the Quechua Lama need to be purified, their bodies prepared and made ready to enter this place of spirits. At the entrance of the biodiversity park one of the grandfathers stood on the other side of a small stream preparing dozens of small hand rolled cigarettes. The Quechua Lama computer teacher once again read out the register and the students filed through accordingly. As they passed by, the grandfather blew smoke on them, purifying them to enter into the forest. The whole troupe filed past, each person undergoing the same procedure, including ourselves, and entered El Monte covered in a haze of tobacco.

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke2, photo by Udi

The students quickly made their way through the forest and in a few minutes we arrive at a clearing where the administration of the park and a small zoo are located. Here we are all received by the park keeper, a non- Quechua Lama ecologist from the local university. The children proceeded to ask him a number of questions about biodiversity, the park, its animals and what they ate. The questions had been prepared earlier, perhaps in the classroom, and had been written in their notebooks. The students meticulously wrote down the answers to the questions. Of note amongst the biological and ecological answers given by the park keeper were the sharp distinctions drawn between things that were living ‘biotic’ and non-living ‘abiotic’, as he put it. After several rounds of questions and answers, and breakfast, we set off to walk through the park. Immediately the majority of students rushed ahead with the park keeper and the computer teacher.

El Monte, the park-keeper-ecologist, photo by Udi

We stayed with a smaller and slower group of some six students who were walking with Leonardo from Waman Wasi and with the grandfather, realising that this was the actual teaching about the forest we thought the trip had been organised for. We had been waiting for a coordinated encounter of all the students with the grandfather and the forest, the intergenerational transmission of knowledge! Instead as we later learned, the whole idea to invite grandparents had come from Waman Wasi, not from the bilingual school. Rather than a coordinated and integral part of the trip, the grandfather element was very much a late add on, an afterthought, to the ‘real learning’ to be had on biodiversity from the park keeper. We had come to the trip expecting to see interculturalidad, interculturality, a strong principle across Latin America that seeks not only a bilingual education but a form of education where people learn to be grounded in and in between two cultures, the dominant ‘western’ culture of subjects, disciplines, of maths and ecology and computers, and the indigenous ways of knowing, in this case, how to be in the forest, walk through it, hunt, gather medicines, know its plants and animals and their behaviour.

El Monte, the grandfather, photo by Udi

What we witnessed instead were the very real challenges of enacting such an education. These were not only challenges of organisation but also around the value and respect that teachers and students place on indigenous ways of knowing. Further than that we also observed how formal schooling instils certain deep habits of literacy that make it harder to engage with indigenous ways of knowing and learning. As I wrote previously on the post on literacies, technologies and techniques that mediate the world, whether the written or printed word or the computer screen, subtly shape our experience and how we make sense of the world and relate to others. We saw the sharp contrast of different kinds of literacies operating in the trip to El Monte. The group with the grandfather also asked him questions that they had written down in their notebooks and also wrote his answers down, rarely looking up as they did. By contrast the grandfather animatedly demonstrated through stories, or walking through the forest, or imitating the calls of animals, or reenacting a hunt or gesture, his knowledge and way of knowing. He knew and conveyed his knowing through his body and voice. Yet he was surrounded by his grandchildren’s generation who could read and write well, but did not know the forest through their bodies. They were forest illiterate.

El Monte, literacy, photo by Udi

After the school trip we talked to Leonardo and shared some of these observations, he was surprised that we had noticed these things too and spoke of the challenges of enacting interculturalidad in practice in schools and engaging the interest of teachers and students. There are so many other mediating technologies now that call young people away from knowing the forest with their bodies; tv, mobile phones, digital music on demand anywhere. Even in El Monte. Every so often the sound of the breeze and swaying trees was interrupted by something much more prosaic, Lady Gaga coming from a student’s mobile phone. We spoke with the grandfather later in the trip and also back in his home in Wayku. Though he is happy and excited to talk to the younger generation and be asked to go on trips like this, he lamented that very few young people are interested in learning the Quechua Lama ways of seeing and being in the forest. So in days to come we wondered how many would still know the forest and have the deep relation that he had, how many will be able to know and imitate the calls of the birds in the fiestas?

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