Learning about other people’s cultures and perspectives is not only important but crucial in a world that is getting smaller day by day. But it’s hard to really hear what others have to say when everything goes through our filters, clouding what we hear. We bring our own prejudices and expectations into any setting, and this happens with everyone.
The difference is that when you have power or come from a group that has power, it’s not just a language or cultural barrier between two cultures that’s a challenge. It’s the imbalance of power that ultimately means the one with the power gets to do the interpreting and defining.
Indigenous People, known by most as “Native Americans” of North America have suffered especially from this.
I know for many years I had struggled with the misguided notions of what it means to be Native American and often what I thought was honoring the various Nations was actually burying them deeper into stereotypes.
Many people take “We welcome all faiths” to automatically assume all faiths welcome us. They don’t.
Many of us feel that because we’re comfortable picking and choosing what’s right for us in terms of spiritual development and worship, that we somehow have a right to pick and choose from other people’s beliefs and customs. We don’t.
Many of think doing something that we feel is honoring someone else is good enough. It’s not.
I do believe most of us mean well, and I really do commend the desire to learn more about another culture. But the best source is the direct source, not watered down, mutated versions designed to be more palatable (i.e. marketable) sources.
If you want your children to learn about the First Nations living within the United States, then go directly to them.
Literature is one of the best ways to learn about another. It’s a look into another person’s world through story. But a lot of stories claiming to be about the lives of Native Americans are written either by non-natives or are stories served to a dominant culture like chop suey is created specifically to western tastes and passed off as Asian.
An excellent resource for learning about Indigenous People of North America is americanindiansinchildrensliterature.net. It’s a personal blog of passion written by Debbie Reese.
From the about page:
Established in 2006, American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL) provides critical perspectives and analysis of indigenous peoples in children’s and young adult books, the school curriculum, popular culture, and society.
It contains a wealth of information. You will find links to curriculum resources that Ms. Reese recommends and articles about those she doesn’t and why. Just perusing her website is education in and of itself.
I especially recommend exploring this site when so much is unfolding in North Dakota with the pipeline protests. It will help to have a better understanding of what’s happening now if you can put it within a cultural and historical context.
~ Demian Yumei