Empowering our youth through the language we choose

This afternoon’s panel with Grandma Selina, Seitook’ (forgive me for my misspelling), and Kingeistí put me at ease with the stress and fear of pursuing a teaching degree here in Juneau and was a reminder of why we need a Tlingit, or other local Native, presence in the classrooms and school system. Their conversations were open and honest, emotional and uplifting, and they spoke with such a balance of intellect and inspiration they left me yearning for me. These are the conversations I am lucky enough to have with them on a personal level, and with my mom, and with my husband as our home is full of passion for Native Education.

The advice that resonated with me the most was when Kingeistí encouraged us not to tell students they have to live in two worlds, that we live in one. It really made me realize that I had been swept up into this same dialogue of ‘two worlds’. Though it is never something I have referenced in my own life path, the idea has been so widespread it has impacted how I have thought about Native Education at times. When I listened to the words I realized how much more empowering it is to acknowledge the strength of living in one world, taking it head on, and the resiliency to be successful.  No matter where you are or what you face you have what is within you: your identity, your culture, your history, your father’s people, and your grandparent’s wisdom.

Discrediting the idea that we live in two worlds would be tough for some to hear as this has been a coined phrase throughout Alaska and Indian Country (similar to when Kingeistí analyzed the term ‘elders’ here in Juneau). Though both terms/phrases have validity in their own right, what I really took away was the need to deconstruct the language we use with our youth and to use that in our teaching. These terms/phrases have been so coined that I believe they have lost some of their meaning and the feeling they were meant to convey, only touching the surface of what these people stand for or what they have to face every day. Our languages are powerful, they are intelligent, they have love, and they have our values infused in them. We need to value that and be respectful with the language (Tlingit and English) we choose to use in our classrooms and remember the lasting impact it will have on our students and on our relationships.

5 thoughts on “Empowering our youth through the language we choose”

  1. Yeah, the moment when he put the two world phrase on its head caught my attention. Metaphors are one thing, but reality is quite another. We are after all existing on one planet orbiting around the sun that is hurling along the universe together.

  2. Very thoughtful and awesome post. I, too, loved the Elder’s emphasis on living in ‘one world’ not ‘two.’ And I love how you phrased- and reminded me of- the words spoken. How important, and awesome, would it be if it was a reality that all students (and teachers) came to school each day feeling like we are all precious and important, that our voices are validated and that we can all be ourselves.

  3. Mischa,
    I wrote on this same topic, but I feel like you captured it so much more beautifully and spoke what I felt but could not express in words:

    “When I listened to the words I realized how much more empowering it is to acknowledge the strength of living in one world, taking it head on, and the resiliency to be successful. No matter where you are or what you face you have what is within you: your identity, your culture, your history, your father’s people, and your grandparent’s wisdom.”

    That wisdom was profound, and it made me reflect about when my mom spoke with me about how hard it must have been to grow up walking in two world, one at school and one at home. I never thought about it till we had that conversation. I have a lot of feelings that do not have words associated with them, but when I read other’s words that capture the emotion, like yours, I can understand myself and others better. Thank you Misha for sharing your words and reflections.

  4. I agree that it was very powerful when David talked about living in one world instead of two worlds. I think that statement works on many levels. Certainly it reflects a mentality that may be felt throughout the Native community. On another level, I think that when a person, especially a child, is unsure about themselves, they try to live in “two worlds.” Sometimes school is an escape- a world separate from home. For many kids books or video games are a second reality, a place of peace and escape. Kids need to be built up, taught that they are accepted as they are in this world, so that they will not look for an escape- which can often be unhealthy.

  5. The phrase “living in two worlds” vs. “living in one world” struck me about David Katzeek’s talk, as well. Having two selves or two separate existences is definitely a concept that could (and does) create a lot of stress, confusion, and identity dissonance for a young person. I, too, am glad that David mentioned how powerful word choice and terms can be when addressing our students and children. Language can have such a powerful impact on how students see themselves and the world. And we have the power to choose our language wisely.

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