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Hello everyone. This is part two in a series about my takeaways from the RELIT 2022 conference. I was gifted a virtual ticket by Dr. Jody’s Instagram account, so. Not too sure if it was the Wonder Woman herself, but either way, I’m incredibly grateful because I took so much away from this day. RELIT was a conference that was organized and hosted by Dr. Jody Carrington. If you’ve not heard of her before. She is a child psychologist who has turned her attention to the big people that care for the little people that she spent her career looking after. In her words, if the adults are not okay, the kids don’t stand a chance. So this event was aimed at relighting the spark, the joy, and the love of teaching, and also recognizing and seeing the teachers that were there.
Now because it was a whole day event, I decided to break it down into multiple, shorter episodes. The whole video playback for the whole event without all of the breaks, et cetera, cut out was about four and a half hours. I really wish I could just play the whole day to you through the podcast. Alas, you’ll have to content with my takeaways. So last week I talked about the messages that were shared by Dr. Jody herself, messages which are reiterated through her social media accounts. If you’re not already a follower, I highly recommend you go and follow her. I follow her on Facebook and Instagram. She also has a really amazing email list if you’re into emails, maybe not as a teacher, but you never know. Some people actually enjoy getting emails, especially when they’re in a newsletter sort of format. If you remember from last week, my takeaways from this event moved beyond the obvious messages that the speakers were trying to get across, and this held particularly true for the speaker that I’m going to be referring to today.
She was one of the keynote speakers of the events, and her name is Nikki Sanchez. She is a Pipil and Irish, Scottish academic, indigenous media maker and environmental educator. So not too far from a lot of us. The way that she speaks is with so much passion, but also compassion.
She’s gentle, but it doesn’t remove the impact of her words, rather, I think it makes them so much more powerful. She kind of reminded me of, I’m sure we’ve all had those teachers in our own past Or perhaps other adults that rather than getting angry, they got disappointed. They got sad, bit like Dumbledore perhaps.
And to me, with the sort of messages that she was trying to impart that approach. Seems so much more impactful than if she had have got up on stage and started ranting and raving and being really angry, which I’m sure deep down inside that is how she is feeling a lot of the time. But she has learned through experience that that sort of approach turns people away from her messages.
So taking a much more gentle. Compassionate approach has really strengthened her message. I feel. I do need to give you a content warning for this episode. It does discuss colonization, and the impacts of residential schools exactly like the ones that were all over the media recently. It discusses child’s torture, kidnapping, and animal cruelty So as always, care for your own mental health. If this topic is too heavy for you right now, just skip this episode.
It does, of course, have important messages that need to be heard, but if you’re not in a place to hear them right now, make sure you look after yourself first.
So the story that Nikki was sharing was two sided, and she wove them together so expertly and so cleverly. It was a true joy to walk through this journey with her, even though the topic was so heavy and so emotional, because it felt like she was sharing from her heart rather than dictating from a script.
On one side of the story was how colonization has impacted the orca whale populations in her native land areas in Canada. Orcas have always been an interest point for me. My husband loves them and no particular reason why. But through hearing her stories, I wasn’t actually aware of how intelligent and how I guess societal they are as a species.
So she spoke of her connection with the orcas, her spiritual and emotional connection, but also her academic work that she’s been doing with them, as well as how they give her access to part of her soul and part of her being that she wouldn’t otherwise have known existed.
Now, if you are not from a cultural background that values native land or, the spiritual aspect of our being, then this sort of story can come across a bit on the nose perhaps. And it can be a bit hard to take seriously. But I really do encourage, if this isn’t your background, please have an open mind and an open heart and a bit understanding and compassion that you probably teach a fair amount of students who do come from a culture and a background that really values these things, and it is our duty of care to acknowledge that in our students and to be accepting of that.
Nikki spoke of how the indigenous communities have always had a connection with the orca living in tandem and learning from each other. She shared stories of how the orca populations have a true society. They have hierarchies, they have individuals with certain skills, and they teach those skills to their young and to the other young within the pod.
They have individuals who can communicate with other pods of orcas, when the other members of their pod can’t. I personally didn’t realize that their societies were so complex. And that’s my own ignorance. I’m happy to own that. It’s not something that I’ve ever learned about before. So for me, this was really interesting to learn about a different species on our planet that shares so many similarities with our own.
It really hit me when Nikki started speaking of this one orca a few years ago. It was very, very big through the media. This orca, her calf had died and Nikki spoke of the plight of that orca to carry the body of her dead calf on her nose for days and days and miles and miles.
And the interpretation of this act by the indigenous people was that this was an act of defiance. This orca was demanding that us humans witness her ceremony of grief in order to bring awareness of the impact that we are having on their direct local environment. Some of you may scoff at that, and for that, I ask you again to show some compassion and some grace. If you are not an indigenous person yourself, you can’t really, or you may choose not to understand the deep connection that their people have with their natural world. It’s not something that I personally have because that’s not my cultural background, and I’m sure that’s the same for many of you listening. But we do need to take that on board and we need to accept that of our fellows and of our colleagues and of our students as well.
So after speaking of the orcas, and this is how Nikki began her talk, she spoke of the orcas, of their intelligence, of their society and of their connection to her indigenous people. Nikki then spoke of colonization. The stories of the killings of orcas in order to save more fish for the humans. The stories of the kidnappings to provide orcas to aquariums around the world, many of which happened from the individual pod that her direct ancestors had connections with.
She spoke of how when orcas were killed or kidnapped, it wasn’t only a tragedy for that individual, but it was a tragedy for the whole pod. The entire pod lost skills and wisdom, knowledge, and abilities as a direct result of those human actions. If you remember, I said just before individual orcas would have skills and knowledge that they would pass on within their pod.
So if the one orca who could speak to the neighbouring pod was the one that was kidnapped or killed, that entire pod actually lost the ability to communicate with their neighbor. That just blew my mind.
Nikki spoke how the actions that caused these tragedies were not just any human actions, they were the direct actions of the colonizers who took over that space. And to be honest with you, I have downplayed these stories quite a bit. They actually brought me to tears, and they were meant. That was the impact that was behind these stories.
I’m sure they would move you to tears too if you heard them. And If you go and look up Nikki Sanchez, you’ll probably find her talks all over the internet. I encourage you to go and have a listen. But my recap here, and my takeaway wasn’t actually about the orca, so I’m going to move on for a little.
Stay with me.
Like I said before, Nikki is a very powerful and a very gentle storyteller. Going to quote for you some words from Nikki that really struck home from me. She said, ” When we talk about animals, we can feel more compassion for them than we do for other people’s children, especially ones that don’t look like us. As human beings, especially as colonized human beings, we know how to care for dogs. We know how to care for wildlife. We’ll give our money to those cause. But when it requires us to look at our participation, the privilege that we’ve derived from those systemic harms, we are so quick to shut down our hearts, to shut down our minds, and to close the door.”
That quote brings me to the second side of the story. Nikki speaks about orcas and the impact of colonization on them as a doorway into discussions about the impact of colonization on indigenous communities and the impacts of things like residential schools.
It’s easier for people to feel compassion for orcas than it is for indigenous populations, even indigenous children.
In Canada, over 150,000 children were forced into residential schools. They were taken from their families and moved permanently into these quote unquote schools in order to receive an education and truthfully to be assimilated into the colonizer population. To remove their indigenous roots.
Of course, we are all at least somewhat aware of similar acts taking place here in Australia and in other areas of the world. This isn’t unique to Canada, however, in these Canadian residential schools, the mortality rate was 50%.
I’ll just let you sit with that one for a moment. 50% of those 150,000 children did not leave those schools. They died there.
Now I am going to give you a quick extra warning here. I am going to detail some of the things that took place in the residential schools. So if you would rather not hear those gruesome details, I encourage you to skip forward about 30 seconds from now.
The children, these children, survivors, and otherwise, were used as scientific research,
Research for things like the impact of starvation on the human body and the impact of the electric chair on a child’s body. There is a report of a child being so small that they could not strap their feet into the electric chair.
The last residential school in Canada only closed in 1996.
So if you look back on those recent media reports of the Mass Graves found at these sites and realize the reality of what took place there and why it might afford you some better understanding of the feelings of the indigenous populations. At the time that this was big in the media.
I heard so much commentary around this. Including, In the teaching communities that I’m part of. And some of that commentary was about how they should just move on. They should forget it wasn’t you, it wasn’t your mom. You should move on. But the reality is the last residential school closed when I was six years old.
I’m 32 now. That could have been me in one of those schools. There are people alive today that were there. There are people alive today whose family was there. This isn’t something that happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
This is a colonization story that is echoed right across the world. The impact that colonization has had on indigenous populations is nothing short of horrific. And just now in 2022, are we starting to see a shift. This shift is coming about because of people like Nikki, the true storytellers with the bravery and the courage to step into a role that no one else wants to look at.
I want to give you another quote from her now, this one about how to be a good ally to indigenous people. Nikki said, “Create windows of resiliency for life to restore itself. Indigenous people do not need anyone externally to save us, but if you are someone who carries settler ancestry, what we do need is your solidarity to ensure that the forms of harm that your people are responsible for, stop. And that is your battlefield. That is your responsibility, That is your beautiful place of privilege, of accountability to take up this work and be allies in the most meaningful form.”
I would love for you to reflect on that because I know that allyship can come in waves. Not just for indigenous communities, but for the LGBTQI+ community as well for any minority population. Allyship tends to come in waves, particularly around awareness times, and I really would like you to take Nikki’s message to heart that these marginalized populations don’t need us to save them.
They need our true solidarity. And they need us to ensure that we stop the systemic continuance of the abuse of their populations. That’s our place.
So here we come to the first of my unconventional takeaways. I say unconventional because of course the intent from Nikki’s talk was to raise awareness of the impacts of colonization and also the importance of recognizing the harm that we have done to indigenous populations. But my mind also went somewhere else, two places actually.
The first is this concept of creating windows of resilience for life to restore itself. This was one of those light bulb moments for me, and I think it’s something that Dr. Jody encourages in a roundabout way when she talks about the fact that we’re all just here trying to walk each other home.
In times of disruption in our classrooms, when a student is really highly dysregulated, it’s our duty and our privilege to be able to provide that window of resilience. .A window of space and grace and understanding. In providing this for our students, we are providing them with an opportunity to walk home, an opportunity for life to restore itself.
Of course, I don’t mean that in the significant sense that Nikki meant, but for our little people, it’s just as important. If we can provide that window for them, only then can they have an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to restore themselves back to a stable ground. Because we all know nothing we say or do will actually change a person’s state, especially not a child. They have to get back there themselves.
So we need to be able to provide that for them. We can’t ever tell a child how to do something. We need to show them, and by giving them the gift of that window of resilience, we’re showing them how to get back to that place of calm and comfort.
The second place that Nikki’s words took me was even more off point. Listening to the way that she wove the stories of the orcas and the indigenous children together made me understand in a way that nothing else ever has the importance of analogies and linked experiences. As I said before, we feel a heck of a lot more comfortable talking about animals than we do humans, and that in itself is of course another issue, but I’m not here to talk to that today.
Rather, I want to draw your attention to your own teaching practices and how you use storytelling, analogies and linked experiences. Do you allow your students to share their experiences that are related to the topic? Can you find like stories for difficult conversations to help shed a little light on the realities of experiences? Can you go about things a little sideways in order to drive home the content with even more impact? Thinking about it now, you know, that’s probably the reason why a lot of children shows are made with animals rather than people as their main characters, because we are more comfortable relating to a non-human than we are to a human. It’s a little strange, isn’t it?
I understand that this episode may have left you with a lot of feelings. I invite you to sit with those feelings. You don’t need to act on them or judge yourself for them. Just sit with them. It made me keenly aware of my colonizer history, my privilege, and it certainly made me do a lot of self-reflection.
I obviously don’t come from an indigenous heritage. I don’t come from a culturally strong background, if you will. So I can’t personally speak to things like having that connection with land and with place and with people. That’s not my personal experience, but I don’t think that that gives me a right to dismiss those experiences of others.
And I think as a teacher, that’s a really important factor for us to be aware of. I know here in Australia, I’m not sure if it’s the same for my international listeners. Hello. By the way. I saw there was someone from Iran listening the other day. Welcome. But here in Australia, our national curriculum has a focal point on indigenous perspectives and I know a lot of teachers ignore it. It’s not relevant to them personally. It seems like a waste of time. It’s too difficult because I don’t have access to that knowledge and that background. I don’t know how to embed it. It’s just put in the two hard basket, and I think that is a real shame. US educators have a real opportunity to be the doorway into exposure and knowledge and acknowledgement of our indigenous communities.
And I mean, if we are delivering the Australian curriculum, it’s actually our job to deliver that part as well. We don’t get to exclude it. If you are a teacher who has been shying away from the indigenous perspective parts of our Australian curriculum, I really encourage you to speak up at your school, to ask around, find ways maybe in a district cluster, jump onto Google.
You’re all intelligent adults. There is no reason to shy away from this part of our curriculum just because you haven’t done it. Or just because it’s something you’re not familiar with. The resources are out there. I’m sure your local community has indigenous elders that you could get in contact with. I mean, if you’re in doubt, contact your local counselor.
They will have it all for you. Contact your Department, ask in your Facebook groups. Ask your followers on Instagram or Twitter, someone will have those links for you so that you can embed these indigenous practices where they should be and how they should be.
All right. That’s the end of today’s episode. If you want to hear more about Nikki Sanchez and her work with the orcas and her decolonization education, I’ll link to her website and her socials in the show notes. Be warned, her work is of course confronting, but it’s powerful and it’s necessary.
You really won’t regret diving down this rabbit hole, that’s for sure.