“We don’t sit our kids down to teach them…we just live our lives.”
This phrase has become a kind of proverb for me. An old friend of mine and Dakota holy man, Wanbdi Wakita, said that once, referring to the traditional phenomenon of learning. Children learn what is right and wrong, how to play with others, how to speak the language, how to pick sweetgrass, how to start a Fire through observation, listening, patience and just doing. In this traditional context, which still exists today in many communities around the world, children are not reprimanded, physically abused or stopped from expressing what they need to express. Their expressions are understood as mirrors to the community that carry great healing and lessons for the People. Children are so free and close to the Divine that they often express elements of life that many adults, especially in our Western culture, have forgotten or suppressed completely. A child’s response is so direct and without premeditation that it has the ability to catch us off guard; this is the potency of their teaching, and the potency of traditional life.
On the other side of the coin, Western culture has devised an immense system of indoctrination that sits children down from the age of 4, or perhaps from the age that they can speak and hear their parents, until they become young indebted adults in the university and college systems. Children are not only reprimanded, but graded, judged and necessary compared to each other by their teachers on almost everything they do, from hand writing, participation, playing, reading, manners, and so on. This does not cover the homogenized curriculum that is taught to children, which creates simplified, blanket concepts and notions in the mind’s of children about the world we live in. It is an educational system that does not honour children or their crucial expressions in the world, but rather a system that glorifies itself, adult and intellectual superiority, and its academic and intellectual ideology, rather than creative, emotional or spiritual growth.
There is a specific part of the Western academic system that I would like to have a closer look at: the way Indigenous histories, truth and spiritual perspectives are taught. I remember, throughout grade-school and high school in Ontario, Canada, that First Nations Peoples, as we respectfully call the Indigenous Peoples of this land, were portrayed only in historical accounts in history class. Illustrations of pierced and Mohawk wearing red skinned humans with bows and arrows were very common in French Canadian grade-school history books. These books limited the description of the pre-contact Autochtone situation to the very beginning of the book, for only a few pages, it then continued to fur trading ventures and the subsequent wars that erupted over the best hunting grounds, all the way up to 1812 and so forth. The emphasis is on who owns what land – the French or the English. A paradigm of difference, disagreement, dislocation, land-claims and ownership is presented to children. The genocidal aspects are left out.
I am not saying anything new; many Indigenous scholars have expounded on the forced indoctrination, abuse and death of their children through residential schools in Canada. What I want to address is that we, no matter what the colour of our skin or cultural backgrounds, are all being told that Indigenous traditions, cultures, practices, and wisdom are no longer important or even legitimate. Scientific and technological solutions have taken the forefront and have created an irrefutable situation for the mind. All things are now seen with evolutionary goggles, in a linear way; we’re eventually going to move to Mars, extract iron-ore from meteorites, and discover the mysteries of the universe. That is evolution. That is dislocation. In our grandiose quest for answers to satisfy our mind’s incessant chatter, we have forgotten where we actually are, what this place actually is. We have alienated ourselves from the possible silence and joy of our hearts, and the deep insights that emerge from such a place. Through forcibly teaching our children, we steal from them, and of ourselves, the true meaning of learning and joy, and the invaluable blessings they provide.
To many people this world looks like a chunk of material floating around in space. This world, however, is highly populated with divine form. This world is an entity. There is everything here that you need to exist. It was brought into existence complete. What has to happen is that you have to recognize and discover what is here in front of you! Forget this notion of a technological solution, something coming to bail your ass out so you don’t need to get your shit together! —Tatewari, Grandfather Fire. Heard Around the Fire (p. 150)
Emilio Portal is an artist, designer, musician and woodworker. He has been making kindling for community fires since 2006. His preference is a very sharp axe, rather than a maul. He is joyfully married to Elyse Portal. They currently live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Heart on Fire is an ongoing article space where Jonathan Merritt and other writers (like Emilio, here) share varied perspectives from people who are part of the Sacred Fire Community. The opinions stated here are not necessarily those of the entire community, but they reflect our diversity and shine through with the sacredness, fire, and community that makes us who we are.