After class Wednesday, I reflected back at our guest speaker, Shauneen Pete. She is a powerful storyteller and she left me mesmerized. For myself, after hearing her stories about her family, I tried to think about how much do I know about my own family. Shauneen was able to go back and describe the lives of her great grandparents, her grandparents, and parents with such ease. I know a fair amount about my grandparents, especially my paternal grandparents whom I was close to. However, I cannot easily tell their story from their beginning. I wish I could and I think this is a common theme lacking in Western society – we are so worried about our future that we do not think to remember our past, and our grandparents’ stories seem irrelevant and unimportant to getting where we want to go in our lives. In Shauneen’s story, the power of knowing who she is comes from knowing who her family is. I have lost this power and may never be able to change that.
Shauneen brought up the myth of meritocracy which she described as “work hard, get what you want (but only if you looked white)”. I learned about this term in Dr. Douglas Brown’s ED 805 class last semester as well. I have learned that this term defines many people’s lives – the work hard and succeed mentality is assumed in our society but if you are sick, poor, First Nations, immigrant, or different in what society has created as normal, it does means a lot more obstacles. Shauneen’s dad is an example of this when he became a RCMP officer. Even after he worked hard to become one of the first First Nations RCMP officers, and yet he was still ostracized by other members.
When Shauneen mentioned that her story begins at the campus, I was yet again reminded how “place” in our stories seem to become connected in our stories.
My thesis theme is a topic that I hope to focus on languages and reconciliation. For myself, as a white, middle class (came from low income family) – I am hesitant about allowing myself to approach it as I would not want to hurt anyone with my research or “do it wrong”. Shauneen said to us “Indigenous kids can’t wait for us (white people) to feel comfortable” and I was reminded that I need to take this step in order to make a difference for the future – or as Justice Murray Sinclair says – to make change 7 generations ahead.
Shauneen’s story about her grandma teaching her about the plant reminded me about the play “Salt Baby” when Salt Baby goes to an Elder and expresses she is worried about doing any of the traditional ceremonies wrong. The Elder replied exactly how Shauneen’s grandma did when Shauneen expresses that she did not know the Cree words like her Grandmother. Both the Elder and the Grandma responded that you do it in your own way and that there is no wrong way. Hearing this has made me rethink about who I am in my place of my story. I have become more aware each day that we are on Treaty 4 land. I also have begun to realize that even though I may not be First Nations, that the traditions and the stories are important to me too as someone who lives on treaty land. I have been invited to smudge on two occasions and both times, I initially felt terror. What if I do it wrong? Just like in Shauneen’s story and Salt Baby’s story, we need to let go of this fear in order to allow ourselves to learn. This is no wrong way to learn as every story that is a part of us is, as Shauneen said, “creating” ourselves.