POV- Cultural Bias- What I am realizing.

(This is my, Tina’s, personal statement of learning. I am not speaking on behalf of the other members of the LEAD team in this bog.)

I am (apologetically) a 50-year-old white woman. I grew up in a very white-bread suburban neighborhood in Ottawa. When I was 16 we moved to a more rural area, and except for a few years I have lived in rural communities ever since. I have certainly met, taught, been friends with, worked with people of all kinds of people- white, brown, English, French, all kinds of cultural, gender, sexual, and religious backgrounds. I have always believed I didn’t “see” differences. I have always believed humans are all the same and have treated all as individual people with equal weight. I have always thought of myself as an open-minded ally for all.

However, since meeting Elder Amanda, the Knowledge Keeper for the Vancouver School Board, my Point Of View (POV) has shifted. We are a collective of nearly a dozen artists, and as we are meeting each other we say where we are. Many live on the traditional territories of various indigenous nations. Many of the artists are members of those nations. Where I live is in that tiny triangle under the St-Lawrence River and pressed right above the border of New York state. One of the closest border crossings leads directly into the Akwesasne Reserve. So that is what I said when I introduced myself. I felt a twitch in the “room” (virtual space), and my words echoed hollowly in my head.

Ok, so to a room full of people very well educated in their own history and cultures and I am only able to speak to them using the language of the ignorant. I am sure the idea of “reserve” is triggering. The indigenous people of our area are called Mohawk by everyone- even themselves. But I am pretty sure that is not the real name of the people. I suddenly see myself a clumsy idiot only perpetuating stereotypes because I have never thought about how it feels to be addressed/ labeled with only white person, colonist/ colonial nomenclature. It must be like a transperson being misgendered constantly by people who can’t be bothered to adapt or consider their feelings. I feel like the stupidest fish that didn’t even realize it was wet.

I have tried to research the word “Mohawk”- it is a push-me pull-you. Mohawk means a spiky hair cut with shaved sides, or a person of the Iroquois nation. Finally, I tracked this down- “name of a North American native people of upper New York and adjacent Canada, and their (Iroquoian) language, 1630s, Mohowawogs (plural), which is said to derive from a word in a southern New England Algonquian tongue meaning “they eat living things,” perhaps a reference to cannibalism. Compare Unami Delaware /muhuwe:yck/ “cannibal monsters.” The people’s name for themselves is kanye’keha:ka.” And “The phoneme /m/ is not present in the Mohawk language; the Mohawk autonym is Kanien’kehá:ka (Kanienkehaka, Kanyenkehaka).” So there I go. I guess I am correct in assuming that “Mohawk” is a pretty heavily laden term, with dangerous and stigmatizing intepertations. So reached out to the Facebook brain and people are helping me become more informed there too. “Kanienʼkehá:ka which explains why Mohawk is easier for white people. Part of the Haudenosaunee, the Iroquois Confederacy.” Now I just need to learn how to pronounce that!

I am going to stop here because I am still trying to unpack these thoughts and feelings. I hope that I can be gently corrected when I make these cultural gaffs. Ignorance is not a valid excuse, I need those who know better to help me become a better ally.

My next question is how do you say Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw? I understand that is the correct name of the Traditional Coast Salish Lands of the Squamish, right? But why is there a 7 in a word- How do you pronounce THAT? I have a lot to learn.