Pausing to acknowledge, remember and retell
For 30 years, November has been recognized as Native American Heritage Month in the United States, dedicated to celebrating the rich and diverse culture, history and contributions of indigenous people. Earlier this month the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed the historic Ho-Chunk Nation Flag-Raising 2021 on Bascom Hill, recognizing an ongoing commitment to moving from ignorance to awareness in building a shared future with the Ho-Chunk Nation and the other First Nations in Wisconsin.
The places where we live and work have unique and important stories to tell and we are also part of those stories. At WIDA, we often begin meetings with a land acknowledgement to take a moment to recognize the indigenous populations whose land we occupy. In our virtual conference sessions, online workshops and webinars, we have continued to take a moment to recognize the truths of where each of us is located and encourage participants from around the world to learn the history of the land where they find themselves.
I am writing this from Southern Vermont, on the ancestral homeland of the Abenaki Nation. During the 1950s the Abenakis were targeted for forced sterilization as part of the Vermont eugenics program. In 1982 the Abenakis applied for federal recognition but were denied, with the Federal Register citing in 2007 that “there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that, at any point in time, a predominant portion of the petitioning group comprised a distinct community or has existed as a community from historical times until the present.”
As international educators, it is essential for us to understand the stories of the places where we live and work. Cultural, linguistic, historical and economic legacies impact each of us. While moving to a new state or a new country might present familiar challenges and even welcome adventures, it is easy to take voluntary mobility for granted. People around the globe continue to be forcibly removed or displaced. In international schools, the transnational populations we serve may view a shared history from a variety of perspectives, and the painful legacy of colonization or forced migration has a direct and lasting impact on many of the students and families we serve.
This time of year also leads many of us to contemplation. A long weekend or even an extra hour from turning back the clock provides some well-deserved rest for weary teachers. In order to reflect on gratitude, we might sift through thoughts and discard some uncomfortable ones. Rather than ignoring these thoughts, we can create space to meet them in the present moment. While it may seem like a challenge when we are already so tired to muster up the energy for this type of investigation, the very act of intention – beginning an honest exploration of the historical landscapes we inhabit – can bring us not only new insights but also new moral energy. And this process can clarify important truths: history is not just in the past, and we are all impacted by injustice.
The stories of how we came to be in a certain place matter. Our own family experience, and the entangled histories of generations of ancestors, can include uncomfortable truths. It’s important to not only learn about those who lived here before us, but also to retell their stories, affording us an important perspective on how we might create more equitable schools and communities.
Jon Nordmeyer, WIDA International Programs director
*Abenaki: Go in good health.