Have you ever sat in a classroom or a meeting and felt your spirit stir? Your mind continues to take in the information and your hands frantically type or write down what you're being told, but something doesn't feel quite right about it. Throughout my academic career, I've had these questions that I didn't have the language or courage to ask. I did what I needed to do to succeed in my classes, but at a price. There was an unspoken trade-off for the knowledge I was consuming and the knowledge inside of me that I was repressing. My blood secretly rejected western epistemology. It wasn't until taking graduate level courses that I started to listen and understand what my spirit was trying to tell me.
My ancestors were urging me to dissent. I detested the notion that there was no presence of Indigenous-centric knowledge in many of my courses. I was disgusted that in many of my classes information about Indigenous people and culture was either minimized, completely withheld, or distorted. Don't get me wrong. I've been blessed with some wonderful professors and mentors throughout my life. They are great because they are aware of the grave injustices in the curricula that they teach, and in their own way they have incorporated their own manifestations of rebellion against the system.
Many of my Indigenous peers from different parts of North America feel the pressure to assimilate to western ways of thinking. Gersin Sanchez, a Guatemalan PhD student at the University of Miami, states, "A western education system requires that we learn to forget. F
orgetting is part of the way the empire works. Those deemed as the 'other,' must learn to forget part of who we are, so that we become them," a sentiment that sounds all to familiar to what many Native elders experienced in Indian Boarding Schools. We'll revisit that topic in more detail another time.
"It's not the simple challenges of academia itself that makes us want to quit school and move home. It's our obligation to tolerate and educate our ignorant peers and professors that weighs heavily on us," Cinnamon Spear, a Northern Cheyenne double Dartmouth graduate, reflects in I Am Where I Come From, a collection of essays published through Cornell University Press. Many of us feel the pressure to speak for ourselves, our tribe, and our ancestors. In many instances, we are tokenized and expected to be an arsenal of knowledge about everything Indigenous. Our honor can also be our burden. We are often frustrated by the questions that we are asked because if we don't have the answer, then we may be considered "less Indigenous." Thankfully, there are older Indigenous scholars who offer guidance to younger generations to cope with these frustrations.
People often assume that we have all the answers without realizing that a great deal of information was stolen from us or died with our ancestors, who lived during a time when U.S. policy was to erase or assimilate. Yet, we are still here. To many we are only a cute Halloween costume and a conquered fantasy, but we continue to fight and dismantle harmful stereotypes. We walk around in a world that tries to ignore us, deny our justice, and then has the audacity to take credit for our intellectual enterprise. But we're taking it all back.
Good Medicine Woman is designed to offer a different perspective, one that is often silenced and forgotten. However, my point of view does not reflect the views of all Indigenous people. Throughout this blog, I will interview and incorporate a number of different perspectives from members of various Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. The goal is to bridge gaps and start conversations between people of all backgrounds to define differences, highlight commonality, and propose solutions for the various issues that plague our society. Topics covered will include elaborating more on disparities in education and epistemology, challenging colonial constructs of identity, reclaiming and defining appropriate ways of using Indigenous medicines, and advocating for social and environmental justice.