THE RAMBLINGS OF
Upon arriving home, the ultimate endeavor of reflection has begun. When challenged to pen the impact of the 2017 Apple Distinguished Educator Academy, a plethora of thoughts, impressions, and images flooded my mind. However, one very chance encounter challenged my way of thinking in a way I had never experienced before. In the middle of watching Matt Baier challenge the playground attendees to a rousing game of SongPop Party, I had the pleasure of meeting Douglas Kiang. After the exchanging of educational backgrounds, and learning about the amazing work of which this gentleman is a part, an unexpected commonality came to light. One of lost or misunderstood identity.
Sixty years ago, a five year old Navajo boy was sent to a government ordered boarding school. Within minutes this boy, known as “boy who plays with fire” to his family, decided the entire experience wasn’t for him and walked miles back to his hogan. The next year, he did not have a choice, and was sent back for the beginning of his lengthy boarding school education. All of the accounts and stories of native boarding schools are true. The nuns prohibited Navajo being spoken by the students and enforced this rule with the swift flick of a ruler. Thus the slow, but inevitable, loss of language began. Over time a few words were forgotten, then tens more, until decades later, it was difficult to recall words to speak to your mother who solely speaks Navajo.
As the daughter of this man, I always heard Navajo spoken at home. However, it was not a fluent, second language. It was the basics. Hello, thank you, dad, and of course, the string of words that accompanied being naughty as a child. Beatrice Taylor once said, “You’ve got to know your language to understand your culture.” I fluently speak English, some rough French, and purely shameful Navajo. Does this mean that I identify with my American culture but not my Navajo? This beautiful group that I am so honored to be a part of, that values land, women, water, and appreciates all that is front of them. However, I don’t have the language, that reveals portions of culture that is not explained or understood in any other way.
As I have become older, I am beginning to understand and yearn to know more about what being a Navajo woman means. But does that honor and right belong to me? I am so far removed from that life that it seems unfair for me to claim it.
While my father’s story may only apply to a small group of people, the cultural uncertainty is not unique.
While I would never want to speak for Mr. Kiang, this is what I took away from our conversation. In Hawaii, a beautiful and isolated location, there are those who feel exactly the same way. Douglas Kiang helped me understand that they are in the same situation. They are told they are part of the culture, but through a variety of factors, they feel as though it doesn’t rightfully belong to them. However, it becomes even more of a challenge when taking into consideration how isolated Hawaii is from the rest of the nation. It brings new light to the concept of “lone island”.
While I had never stopped to consider how much land and language contribute to a grand sense of not deserving the right to claim our culture, it has struck me that this is now a much larger issues that needs to be considered. If it weren’t for the ADE Academy, I would have remained stagnant in my understanding of cultural confusion. However, now I seen a rich resource from which I can learn. I look forward to exploring this idea with my fellow ADEs and perhaps gaining more insight to myself in the process.