Category Archives: decolonization

High School is Optional

In reading Globe And Mail article on First Nations’ education ‘First nation’s quiet revolution will begin in the classroom’, calling for education reform among schools on reserve to address the social and economic problems within native communities through high school graduation. The ideas are complex but a few seem clear. More cultural influence, consistent reports on students progress, a new prescribed structure, and more comprehensible pathways to higher education and employment will increase likelihood of high school graduation, therefore the betterment of social and economic life.

One of the problems I find with this theory of bringing change within First Nations communities is the assumption that the success we need, or even seek, is economic progress. If the goal of a group is not economic progress but resurgence of traditional cultural values and principles, where does high school completion fit in?

Economic progress appears sound in theory with bringing in more material wealth but it is ultimately destroying diversity, both eco and ethnic, the world over through its homogenizing and destructive nature. It seeks a monoculture among people and among the planet. The compulsory education system used by Western countries is no different.

Yes, youth need to be more involved in culture. But how can schools still maintain the values of indigenous peoples when schools are inherently violating the rights of autonomy for children? And it doesn’t just go against the philosophy of education indigenous peoples and nature hold, but with the emerging understanding of business. It’s an outdated model of education and business. (http://ow.ly/3uyyH http://ow.ly/3uyzC)

The idea that high school is essential is a damaging idea that is pushing people who haven’t finished high school away from their dreams and goals. Separating education from completing high school and allowing more space for other options is what we need. Increasing funding for education is needed but the means to the ends is going to be different because we as a group are looking for a different end.

Most importantly, we need to discuss this ourselves. We need to ask our community members, is progress within Western economy really what we need? Is it aligned with the values of our ancestors and traditions? What are our goals?

It feels strange and full of inaccuracy when I see reports on high school completion being the right and normal way when my life and so many other unschoolers are contrary to the fact. These are just a few thoughts. I’ll post more later.

A fork in the road

A change of winds indeed, I’ve come to a crossroads in my life–the first of many, my friends tell me–an unexpected, but interesting job offer in my own territory and an acceptance letter from a gardening program I dreamed of getting into. Both overlap in time, both are things I’ve always wanted to do.

The first is a job with a fisheries research company in Squamish: a town I’ve always dreamed of living. I’d be counting the young chum in the spring time, full-time, for four months. I’ve also planned helping a friend with her field work for her Master’s during the same time; taking a Skwxwú7mesh Language class; learning more about our traditional native plants, salmon– our main food source– and the territory of the Skwxwú7mesh people. Not to mention the canoe journey that will hopefully take place again in 2011.

There’s also the opportunity of working with other First Nations youth who are doing restoration work on the island, as well as educational funding to get the proper training to work in fisheries–besides going to Outdoor School when I was in school, I know barely little about salmon and rivers.

Downside is, I don’t feel super excited about squeezing into some neoprene coveralls every morning. I felt uncomfortable and anxiety was super present when I wore them. And feeling is everything to me. I have a lot of them.

The second is Linnaea Ecological Gardening Programme on Cortes Island. I applied in October, honestly thinking I wasn’t going to get in, until the day after I came back from a job shadow of the position I’d have with the research company, I got the acceptance letter in my inbox. I was shocked I got in.

Last year, when I read Derrick Jensen’s Endgame and Taiaiake Alfred’s Peace, Power and Righteousness, I started thinking about what kind of life I wanted to live, especially in terms of my career. I felt gardening was the best choice when I began to think about our dependency upon oil and industrial agriculture. After I applied, I read Jared Diamond’s The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race (http://ow.ly/3k7XV), which completely changed my mind about agriculture and gardening. It got me thinking about my values and what I wanted to do with my life, once again. Linnaea didn’t seem, or feel right after that but now it seems like I’ll have one of the most exciting experiences of my life there. I’m utterly excited for living on Cortes Island for 8 months, growing vegetables, tending to cows, and picking fresh mushrooms for grilling. I’m excited for learning and eating, as well as living with 11 complete strangers and getting to know them.

I just don’t know if I should. If agriculture, even small-scale organic permaculture is destructive to the earth as Jared Diamond’s argument is then it would go against my values.

I also didn’t get the funding I thought I would get. I will have to work my butt off in the next four months to pay for living expenses and the program itself. And it is super expensive. When I come back, I’ll be broke and homeless– without a doubt, my room at my place will be gobbled up by some other relative as soon as I leave, which in ways doesn’t bother me.

Either way I choose there will be other opportunities out there for me. One of the things I like about the business class I was taking was the tools it gave me. Most of them could be applied to everyday life, like the idea that even if you don’t come to an agreement on something you wanted, there’ll be another opportunity in the future. A few were slightly manipulative and things I wouldn’t use in my personal relationships, or at all. But there was a lot of good ones. That’ll be a post!

I also know I could easily learn gardening without going to a fancy program. It will just be harder work because that program is a package deal. And sometimes harder just means more fun.

That’s my life right, now. I’m off to my friend’s clown birth, which is not as my mother though a woman giving birth with a clown in the room. It’s a graduation from clown school! Yippie!

Post more soon!

-Cheyenne

My Unschooled Life

I haven’t gone to school since I was thirteen years old. With that sentence, it’s usually assumed I’m lazy, stupid and well on my way to homelessness. The fact that I’m a young native woman only makes this judgement even more harshly assumed. I’m writing to defy that stereotype. I’m an indigenous youth and I left school to learn.

School will always be a subject rooted in pain for the native tribes living within any Western country, with the advent of schooling marking the end of our culture and the beginning of assimilation. Canadian Indian Residential schools opened in 1840’s until the 1960’s with the majority of them closing, the goal of ‘killing the indian out of the children’ was largely accomplished, my people were without a culture. Children growing with their language and teachings beaten out of them had begun to have children who grew up only knowing colonial society. The only way of life they knew were the teachings of the Western people, the exact opposite of the indigenous ways of life.  Western teachings are you have to get a job to live, but to get a job, a good job, required having a high school diploma (now having a bachelor degree). With high school being illegal until the 1960’s and our knowledge of how to live off the land lost, we were in a harsh poverty before 1960s. We needed to have money to live and support our families. School was the key to life. Being a student, a learner, meant being in school.

 With that history of schooling, it would come as no surprise the resistance and opposition I faced when I left school. I was doing exactly what we were taught not to do. At first, I felt ashamed, guilty and depressed. I was thirteen years old, just started high school which is like a coming-of-age ritual of our society, and my grandma had passed away. It was during a time of change for me. My brother was the one who brought unschooling to my attention. Perhaps the catalyst for all my change. He left school the same time I did but being four years older and having seemingly being unschooling for most of his life. He and I were at different places in life. I was pushing on my own for most of the time in my journey. But I persisted. Through all the shame, guilt and confusion, I started to learn more and more about my culture, our traditions and teachings. Unschooing suddenly became a way for me to live more similar to how my ancestors lived. It had opened me up to learning the traditions, songs, dances, and language of my people. It had brought to my attention the situations people, animals and life worldwide are facing because of Western teachings.

Sometimes called deschooling, homeschooling or dropping in/out, unschooling itself comes in many different colours, flavours and sounds. Yet it follows a few underlying principles that are found in any unschooling home or practice. Living and learning are the same thing. People are instinctively curious and avid, adaptable learners, and not every method of learning is suitable for everyone, everywhere. I used to refine my definition of unschooling over and over again in my head when I first left school. It definitely has changed over the years as I’ve come to experience the meaning of learning by living. One way I see it is as a form of decolonizing. It is to break down the colonial system that has imprisoned my people for over one hundred and fifty years. It is the same philosophy that my ancestors followed, that all indigenous people have followed since the beginning of time, that there is no difference between being a student and being alive. Unschooling has opened me up to allow my culture to come. I’m writing this blog to give insight into the life not usually talked about the life of a unschooling, young native woman.

This my life. Welcome to my blog.