Braiding Past, Present & Future

“Indigenous Peoples have long histories and even longer futures.” This was one of the wise ideas shared at a gathering of Indigenous educators I was fortunate to be a part of a couple weeks ago. At the gathering, we were asked to share our foundational beliefs around teaching and learning. There were so many beautiful ideas shared, too many to count, like hairs on my head. But this one I quoted above stays with me.

The respect for intergenerational connections and commitments is strong among Indigenous educators. Like how I often wear my hair, the past, present, and future are always braided together. Sometimes my thinking and actions are solid, secure, and well-prepared in living this vision of education. Sometimes less so. Like when I’m in a rush, holding a hair elastic in my mouth, head turned to the side so I can reach the back of my head and hurriedly work around tangled knots I should’ve brushed out, but instead I just live and let live with those tangles and now I’ve got three unequal sections of hair as I speed walk to my next meeting or destination while I braid, braid, braid those three strands, pulling as tight as I can to smooth over the tangled bumps but not so tight that the braid pulls on my head and causes a headache. When I feel I’m done I use the hair elastic and go round, round, round with it at the end of my braid. Sometimes in my rush to finish I pull too tightly on the elastic and snap! It breaks. Ugh. Now I have to walk around holding the end of my braid until I scrounge up another elastic circle. Be more gentle this time, I remind myself. Pay attention to what you’re doing.

As I walk around holding the end of my braid, I think of the people who teach me and support me. I have so many generous teachers. Sometimes my mother-in-law makes us Twelve Days of Christmas gifts–she uses 12 socks and puts decorated numbers on them and little gifts inside. Sometimes there’s a pack of hair elastics in one sock, a thoughtful gift for me. So I never worry too much about breaking these, as I usually get restocked in December. Sometimes I think of the buckskin hair ties my parents and aunties cut for me when I was younger. Those thin strips, so soft and strong. With these hair ties you want to crank them tightly in a knot so they don’t fall out. As I touch the soft tan strips I think of the deer and elk who gave their best so I could be dressed up, learning from the older generations: who we are, how we conduct ourselves, and yes, even how we wear our hair.

Braid, braid, braid. Yes, these lessons are for me. So I can learn and live the best life I can. And so I can be strong, bold, and loving in making space for Indigenous education for future generations of students.

How’s my braid today? Pretty good! No tangles. Like the other MJ, I feel I’m a smooth operator. Except not in a gross way. Rather, like the nice definition from the Urban Dictionary. If you look it up, you’ll see a synonym is “awesometaculor.”

How could I not be feeling good and doing well, with the spirits of deer, elk, and my Aunties all surrounding me with love, hope, and encouragement. Soon I’ll visit with my parents, and then my in-laws. These teachers, just one generation older than me, they know things. They show things. Will I be a good student? Will I pay attention? Yes. I’ll take the time to comb the tangles out before I braid my learning from the past, in the present, for the future.

What lessons will you braid together today? I hope that whatever you do, you are feeling good and doing well. Awesometaculor.

Photo credit: “Braided Scarf” by LollyKnit is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat November sessions begin November 6. Register here.

Published by Michelle M. Jacob

Owner of Anahuy Mentoring

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