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.