When I moved to Northern California for college I brought no mementoes of my culture. No pictures, no handmade clothing, I took care to avoid mentioning where I was from. When people assumed I was Asian I was happy to let them think it, because Asians were smart and clean. My dorm room was bare of my cultural past, the village was scrubbed from my skin. For months I got away with it.
Eventually I did have a lichen flavored epiphany, and through a different kind of birth I emerged to love 90% of my being. There were a lot of tears and a lot of pain and for a while I was ashamed not of my heritage but of my denial of my heritage. I will live the rest of my life in finding the fragile forgiveness of my ancestors.
But after a while I began examining where this burning self hate came from. I looked into my past and the influences that made me who I was. I looked at each and every thought and prayer and hope I held next to my heart. The examination took years.
Be careful of the ears that hear your judgements. Be careful that your words or actions do not plant poison in younger minds.
I grew up hearing from people that I spent the most time with everyday tell me that my beloved home and my brown skin were less. That the things I could not change about myself were things to be ashamed of. I don't think they did it on purpose. I instead think they thought thy were imparting us with great guidance and wisdom, hoping that these revelations would dispel laziness and uncaring. A twisted motivator.
I write this not to be vindictive, but I do write to make someone, at least one person I hope, aware. I am angry about my experiences, but that anger is surrounded by tears and pain. I still work to untangle the tangled unmapped threads.
And yes I am talking about teachers. The teachers that work in the villages. I do want to point out that not all teachers are bad or are doing badly. But there were a few in my life that did damage to me and others. They wove cruel words into our daily diet. With statements like "if you do well in this class you can get a good grade, go to college and get out of this place." Or comments about animal smells, dirty environments, or how they REALLY can't wait to leave this dreadful/lonely/isolated/cold/desolate place and go to a REAL place with theaters and bowling alleys and things to do. I grew up hearing these offhand comments. I grew up watching teachers snort at and judge kids that had bad attendance, even though everyone else knew it was because the kid was hunting/camping/fishing/being Inupiaq. They deemed them "behind" and "slow", and so we learned early that being Inupiaq meant that the smartest people in the world thought you were dumb, and they would separate you from the rest of the kids and spend more time with you and speak slowly like you lost some brain cells. Of course we all thought these teachers all knew. And we learned that Most teaches did not enjoy your home. That they thought it was dirty or boring and they all left when they could, running from the village like it was on fire.
It was like someone walked into your house, a house your family has owned for generations, with a degree in Awesome Homes Authority and a clipboard full of official papers. And then they proceeded to write everything they thought was wrong with your house. Not just the broken things or the missing things but the fact they hated your choice in furniture and the curtains were not the right color, and there were not enough rooms or things that they deemed necessary for you to be happy. They wrote it all down, and even thought you did not see the list....you could still hear them and see them.....
I think the easiest way to ear the respect of a village as an out of town teacher is to stay a little bit for the summer, or the winter Christmas celebrations, voluntarily. Though we can't always hope that everyone will absolutely adore our culture and villages, we can at least hope that they don't openly hate them. I still think that they need to offer a "inupiaq Manners" course for new teachers, as with any cultural interactions there are differences in mannerisms and nuances that cause many a issue.
The tragic part is that people think that all of these issues only existed in the past, that no teachers are guilty of any of these things anymore. But it would surprise most to find that it still exists rampantly. There are organizations and people working hard to incorporate and raise Inupiaq knowledge and attributes to the same heights as Western knowledge but it will be a long term battle. As a teacher I was once asked by another teacher how I " can pretend to be so Inupiaq with my education and fit in with them after work."
.....and how many of your children remark that they find the village boring and Native and lame and that they can't wait till they get out of there?.....