I went to McNally Robinson today, in Treaty 1 territory, hoping to find The Colonized and the Colonizer as suggested by Teala from Batchewana Health Centre. I was unsuccessful at this particular bookstore but noticed a vibrant and large Indigenous section and browsed… awhile.
I picked up several large books, with the intention of sitting down to sort out my thoughts and pick one or two books. About 6 hefty books in my jacked right arm I hear the gentleman quietly reading in a seat pipe up and say “I notice you’re looking in a particular section, the Indigenous section… What are you looking for? What question are you hoping to answer?”
I paused briefly, thought, and replied with a bit about the travels I’ve had the past couple of weeks. He said “okay, well, I am a Sun Dancer …” (my memory fails me for this part)… “and, may I suggest talking with an Elder?”
I replied saying we had spoken with an Elder and many Indigenous individuals. He clarified the difference between an elder and an Elder and their knowledge and teachings.
“You know, there’s a lot you can’t learn in a book… its really much better to talk to an Elder” he said. I thanked him for his guidance. “Can I tell you a story?” I replied “Please do,” feeling no time constraint and strangely intrigued by this random human who crossed my path.
He went on to tell a story about a Native American community (whose name escapes me… and trust me he told it with no glitches). “The [community] was contacted by Tibetan’s to learn more about their way of life. The Tibetan’s were invited down to [the community] and they met in an [earth lodge]… The Native American’s spoke for 3 days, sharing stories about their culture, tradition, people, and land. Then it was the Tibetan’s turn. They finished in 3 hours. The Native American’s were confused, surely there had to be more to know. They asked the Tibetan’s if they wrote it down and they said yes.”
That is the extent of my memory of the story. I think the moral of the story is that if you write down you forget and you cannot teach or share to the same extent.
After that meeting, I was unsure about how to approach the many books I held in my aching arm. I sat down and skimmed through them. Checked the authors, the publishing date, and read a few lines. Reflecting on this moment now I do feel the different benefits of reading versus speaking with Elders. I think both can augment each other and have different things to offer. Not to mention the accessibility of books (though this is not true for everyone). But, I am learning to understand the importance and brilliance of oral tradition. This conversation also affirmed the need for me to draft a list of questions, because many come up, but when the opportunity arises to speak with an Elder, I blank.
Still wanting to learn more from Indigenous peoples (and support them #BuyNative), I settled on one book Indigenous Healing by Rupert Ross. The back was enticing and drew me in. I would hope to learn about Indigenous Healing and Spirituality’s role in healing, something that escapes me at this point and time. Spirituality has come up in many conversations and is something I strongly wish to understand in order to provide more holistic health care for Indigenous peoples as a nurse.
In the car I was reading the back to Evan and suddenly realized that I did not check if the author was Indigenous. This was important to me for a few reasons 1) I want to learn from Indigenous peoples 2) I want to support Indigenous artists and writers. I have been researching the Bio of Ross to discern if he is in fact Indigenous or not; given that most authors list their Indigeneity, I am assuming he is not (yes, assuming is not the greatest technique). So now, this gets tricky.
Should it matter if he is Indigenous? Well, in this conversation absolutely it does because of, in simple, historical implications and reconciliation. So, does Ross’ book have a place to be teaching Indigenous Healing? Surely his experience as a Crown Attorney in northwestern Ontario has provided some insight to Indigenous communities, but is this from white privileged perspective… and if so, is this where I want to be, or where we should be learning from.
Do authors like Laurie Graham, who write about Indigenous issues from a White-allied perspective have a place?
Does this very blog I am writing have a place? What is that place? Are we taking away from Indigenous writers and story tellers?
As a white writer, asking about right and wrong to historically burdened peoples has been frowned upon by some, noting that by asking these questions you again put your burden and uncomfortability unto those who have already been burdened…
So how does the white ally learn what is appropriate? This conversation is complex, multi-faceted, and filled with many conflicting opinions. There is no easy answer. Of course, the Medicine Wheel teaches there is something to learn from each person; maybe its just learning about where the line is drawn between ally and abuse of privilege.