You don’t know what you don’t know

My thinking about the holiday called Thanksgiving has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. That is because I’ve been blessed to spend time and make friends with some Native people. And I’ve been studying to learn more. One of the great things about having Native friends is they can suggest books and videos that are accurate depictions of Native life, spirituality and culture.

I like to remind myself that “you don’t know what you don’t know”. That helps me be more open to new ideas and learning from other’s experiences. Also helps me not to be (too) defensive when my ideas are challenged. I’ve shared this quotation a number of times, but this is another place I think it is useful.

ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORY

From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.

Richard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017)

We grow when we have the opportunity to hear other’s stories, and share our own. The point of the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March I was blessed to be part of was to get to know each other. Sharing our stories is how we did that.

I’ve been thinking and writing about the holiday known as Thanksgiving as an opportunity to learn and teach about the actual history of the United States. I believe we can do that by sharing stories about what we ourselves have learned. The video mentioned below, Dawnland, is a powerful learning opportunity.

I think most White people have a vague idea of how settlers spread across the land. Ideas like Manifest Destiny and the Doctrine of Discovery were used to try to justify colonization.

My experience is very few White people know about the Indian boarding schools. If they have heard of the schools, they assume the schools were to help Native children learn to fit into the White society surrounding them. Forced assimilation is an accurate term. This gets to why I titled this post “you don’t know what you don’t know”. I hadn’t known about the numbers of Native children forced to attend those schools. I didn’t know how many died. I didn’t know about the widespread physical and sexual abuse. I didn’t know the children were forcibly taken from their families, and often not returned for years, if they survived. I didn’t know these children no longer fit into their communities when the did return from the schools. I didn’t know Quakers were so involved with these schools. I didn’t know that trauma is passed from generation to generation. Separation of children from their families at the US-Mexico border today is not the first time this was done.

Decolonizing involves education and healing. If you don’t know much about the Indian boarding schools, you can learn from a powerful video that is available for free viewing this month, Dawnland. The following information is from my friend, Peter Clay, who also participated on the First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March. We worked together when Paula Palmer was in the Midwest, to setup meetings and workshops related to “toward right relationships with Native peoples.”

I hope you might help with decolonizing. As families gather for the holiday called Thanksgiving, there may be opportunities to share stories about what actually occurred during colonization of the United States. Such conversations can be difficult. If we approach these opportunities by sharing stories about what we know, that might help get past defensive feelings and conflict. Watching Dawnland can help with your own education and give you more stories to share.

As Richard Wagamese said above, “What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together.

I just re-watched “Dawnland.” The free streaming version available all month via PBS. It was perhaps even more powerful to watch it a second time, although I believe that the version I saw at Pendle Hill was the longer version.

Denise Altvater is the coordinator of the Wabanaki Youth Program for AFSC in Maine. https://www.afsc.org/media-kit/bios/denise-altvater Denise was at Pendle Hill last year and is in the film. Her testimony is very emotional and very disturbing.

I believe that this film needs to be very widely seen and I hope that you will mention it at the end of your presentation. I am also willing to do that, if you prefer. Here again is the link to watch it online during November, which is National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month: https://www.pbs.org/video/dawnland-t0dsij/

Peter Clay

https://www.quakerearthcare.org/bfc/volume-31-number-4
This entry was posted in decolonize, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Indigenous, Native Americans, Quaker, Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You don’t know what you don’t know

  1. Miriam Kashia says:

    I really appreciate this piece, Jeff. Thanks. miriam

    On Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 11:04 AM Quakers, social justice and revolution wrote:

    > jakisling posted: ” My thinking about the holiday called Thanksgiving has > changed dramatically over the past couple of years. That is because I’ve > been blessed to spend time and make friends with some Native people. And > I’ve been studying to learn more. One of the great thi” >

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