Sometimes when I look outside it feels like I am gazing into a mirror. The greyscale landscape, frost clinging to every surface, the muted tones of sky blanket above us–they seem to reflect exactly how I feel.
Freezing fog is a companion and messenger, reminding us:
move with intention.
At first glance, some might say it’s a bleak winter morning.
Yet, I sense another lesson emerging from Mother Nature’s classroom:
Frost is like a delicate icing, sky has an almost endless variation of cool tones, freezing fog is a beautiful contradiction–liquid and solid seemingly at the same time.
There is a rich complexity in this simplicity I see.
What a beautiful reflection and gift from Mother Nature’s classroom.
How will you move with intention in 2022? Maybe you want to join the Marathon-ing The Auntie Way course–begins Monday, January 17; attend live on Mondays or watch the recordings and complete the course at your own pace. More info and register here.
I’ve been thinking about our beautiful Coyote Stories. I recently received a copy of our beloved book, Anakú Iwachá, in the mail. It is a gorgeous cultural treasure filled with our traditional stories and stunning artwork. These are stories our Elders have engaged, preserved, and generously shared about teachings and places important to us, Since Time Immemorial. They are perhaps our most precious, beloved curriculum. Our stories have served as a backbone to our Yakama education system long, long, long before settler colonialism and its odd way of doing schooling arrived.
One particular story I’ve been thinking about is Spilyáy Breaks the Dam. In the story, Spilyáy (Legendary Coyote) is clever and generous, probably traits shared by many of our favorite teachers, and he breaks the dam to help care for and feed the people. In doing so, he helps our beloved salmon to continue on their sacred journey in life. While definitely heroic, Spilyáy is also often humbled in our stories, and in this particular story he models for us the importance of listening and seeking help when needed.
As we move into 2022, it is the perfect time to reflect on lessons Spilyáy teaches us in our beloved stories. Maybe we can be deeply inspired by the legendary teacher.
What dam will you break?
What courageous actions will you take to care for yourself and those you love?
I’m wishing you well in your heroic and humble journey!
Join inspiring and brilliant writers breaking through their own dams in The Auntie Way Writing Retreat! Winter 2022 sessions begin Friday, January 7, 2022 at 10am-12pm Pacific time (1-3pm Eastern). Register today and gain year-round membership to the Anahuy Mentoring Mighty Network with free access to bonus writing retreats, co-working sessions, and additional supportive workshops!
In Tuxámshish Dr. Virginia Beavert’s book, The Gift of Knowledge / Ttnúwit Átawish Nch’inch’imamí: Reflections on Sahaptin Ways, she tells the story of when she was a very young girl, not yet two years old, when she got lost in the mountains. She was with a young girl she’d been playing with in the mountains while their families hunted deer and picked huckleberries. She shares that her friend, Maggie Jim, knew the berries and plants in the forest that would sustain them, and that Maggie had her power to protect them. After two weeks, the two young girls were found, and Virginia notes they were happy, healthy, and safe. Virginia shares her mother’s recollection of the day they were reunited: Virginia’s moccasins were “practically worn out and I had berry juice all over my face and dress.” This quote and a beautiful photo of Virginia and her mother from that day is on p. 16 of her book.
Virginia recently celebrated her 100th birthday. She has many wonderful stories to share from her amazing life spanning ten decades. I chose this story to share with you today because it contains lessons that I believe are so relevant for our times–when so many people are feeling busy or hectic.
Something I love about this story is that it’s clear Virginia and Maggie knew and fully trusted their environment had everything they needed to survive and thrive. They fully trusted that they were whole, safe, and protected. Being lost in the mountains for two weeks didn’t shake their faith that they were well, and could be trusting in their environment and themselves.
I love turning these lessons over in my mind. I love carrying these important teachings Virginia learned as a young girl on our beloved Yakama homeland–lessons which she has generously shared with all of us through her writing.
I love seeing the hope and possibilities of educational systems that reclaim these important teachings as central to all we do. Doing so helps me ask questions that fill my heart and restore my faith.
How would the experiences of students and faculty be transformed if we enjoyed systems that nurture a complete sense of trust that everything we need to thrive is already present in our environment?
What if our education systems also nurtured within us an unshakable trust and belief that we are whole beings who are good and well?
In this busy time as 2021 wraps up, I wish you a season (and a lifetime) of experiences that nurture, support, and reflect back to you all the goodness you are and share.
Do you want a kind, supportive, and productive writing community? Write Your Journal Article Moccasin Camp (not a bootcamp) two-week course with Dr. Michelle Jacob begins Monday, December 13, 2021. Special! Register by December 10, 2021 for Winter 2022 The Auntie Way Writing Retreat (sessions begin January 7) and receive FREE access to my Moccasin Camp course! Learn more and register here.
When I ask myself: What do I want in my work and life–on this chilly dark morning, a time perfectly designed for quiet reflection, a time when Aan (Sun) pauses, delays, and resists the go, go, go push and pull that can feel so common in our lives and work. Aan is such a beautiful role model for us, as I write about in my new book manuscript that calls our attention to the people, beings, and places who fill our hearts with love and care; I’m delighted the manuscript is currently being reviewed–in the hands of five brilliant scholars who are also kind people, wise teachers, and amazing community builders.
Oh! I see the answer to my big, big question is there–right there! I carry the answer with me, like leggings I sometimes I sometimes forget I’m wearing when I dress in my grandmother’s regalia. All the shells, beads, and beautiful fabric on my colorful dress–these are the parts I usually notice. Yet, sometimes I do pause long enough to remember the most brilliant beadwork is there, humbly covering my ankles and shins. Thousands and thousands of beads neatly stitched and fabulously designed so that in our over 30 years together they’ve kept both their style and function. They are the opposite of things fast and disposable that I feel are too often surrounding our lives.
My leggings (leggins, as we call them), well of course they are not mine, I’m merely the custodian of them in my lifetime. The leggins will outlive me. Depending on who in my family travels to the spirit world when, they’ll perhaps be companion to one of my brothers, or perhaps my niece, or a great niece who is yet unborn. Maybe a member of the future generations will sit on a dark, chilly autumn morning asking what she wants from her work and life?
Maybe she’ll be blessed to see she already has the answer–to share her beautiful vision through the work she does, and in her everyday way of being–surrounding herself with brilliant, kind, wise, amazing people. Maybe she’ll look down at her leggin companions, atop her sturdy moccasins, and see their humble place and shiny brilliance, and see that she is too.
I am writing this in November, Native American Heritage Month, during the week of Rock Your Mocs. It is a joy to witness Indigenous peoples celebrating our cultures, traditions, power, and presence. In doing so, we remake schools and workplaces so that Indigenous brilliance is more visible and present. In doing so, we Rock Our Mocs, and our lives. It is a beautiful expression of what our ancestors’ hoped for us, and by fulfilling these hopes we send them lovingly forward to the future generations.
Want to read more? Order one of my books here, where you can also gift a book to a library on an American Indian Reservation. Thanks for reading my blog!
Thank you for reading my blog, in which I share writing that honors key teachings from my book, The Auntie Way. While topics vary, what remains consistent is a commitment to bring kindness, fierceness, and creativity into our lives.
One of the greatest joys as an author is to share one’s voice and vision with the world, with the hopes that doing so will help someone who engages with our work. I’m so delighted that Dr. Tracey T. Flores, from the University of Texas at Austin and founder of Somos Escritoras/We Are Writers, shared my story, “I Auntie’d Myself Today,” with Escritoras–they read the story together and then responded to a discussion question after the story. As a result of this sharing, one 10th grade writer, Allegria, (who recently celebrated her 16th birthday!) wrote her own poem. Tracey shared Allegria’s poem with me and I asked Allegria if she would consider having it posted on my blog–as I know readers will enjoy Allegria’s beautiful writing. Allegria agreed! What a gift to us all. Below is her bio, poem, and photo. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Allegria. We are grateful for the reminder that we need to allow ourselves love and joy!
Bio- My name is Allegria monet De Leon, born and raised in Austin, Texas, I am 16 and I am a Mexican American. I am currently enrolled at Sci-Tech Prep Wayside high school as a sophomore. My current goals include pursuing and furthering my education, especially in engineering, the arts, architecture and literature. I want to be remembered as someone who not only inspired many but as someone who took risks and helped improve the world’s social and educational systems.
I auntied myself today
I left my body in her hands
I let myself hold her
I let myself auntie her
I let myself feel love, not only for her, but for me for every part of myself
I let myself be auntied today
yes today I allowed myself to hold her hand
today I fiddled and played with the boundaries of our friendship
today I let my happiness consume every part of me
today I let my excitement thrive my nerves to let go
I auntied myself today
I finally let go and let myself feel the love and joy I always kept down
Reading and sharing books is a wonderful way to bring kindness, fierceness, and creativity into our lives! You can order and ship any Anahuy Mentoring books here (free shipping to U.S. addresses!) and author royalties are donated to the Sapsik’ʷałá Program to support the next generation of Indigenous teachers.
I’ve been too busy lately. I can feel this in my shoulders and neck. I’m craving a slower pace–more spaciousness and sweet, easy fun. Space in my calendar. Space to breathe on my journey of life.
I know this feeling. I know it’s time to pause from the busyness of life and do one thing. It’s time for a lesson in Mother Nature’s classroom.
I love this time of year–with the golden colors emerging–their warm beauty inspiring us as the days and nights become cooler–the time when snow begins to grace our beloved foothills and mountain peaks. All throughout Mother Nature’s classroom we see it is a beautiful time of preparation.
I look to my sacred, ancient relative, Chuush (Water), and admire the graceful movement and sound as she journeys through the mountains, weaving her way under fallen trees and over millions of rocks in her riverbed. She smooths them all–so clear and determined she is on her journey–to blessed N’chi-Wána (Columbia River), of course, and then to beautiful Pacific Ocean. She moves slowly, gently, modestly at this time of year. She’s a beautiful role model who encourages me to ask:
How am I moving today?
I see the gorgeous rich colors reflected on Water’s surface. As I soak up the inspiring colors I feel a loving invitation. I’m invited to have a gorgeous transformation of my own.
I love my teachers in Mother Nature’s classroom. Like all good teachers they invite me to be inspired to grow and learn. Like all good teachers they want what’s best for me, and they have generous faith and trust in my ability to journey beautifully in this life.
I’m so grateful for this beautiful time of preparation.
You can read more about lessons from Mother Nature’s classroom in Michelle’s book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch, available here.
I’ve been asked to write about my greatest hope for Indigenous education research. Of course, we do research to understand the past, to have a more meaningful present, and to work toward a more loving, just future.
At least that is my understanding of the purpose of research.
Sometimes research is done with good intentions and yet it does harm. Sometimes the harm is overwhelming, devastating, genocidal. The mass graves at Indian boarding schools are evidence of the murderous outcomes of white supremacist logics, research, policies, and practice of a settler colonial education system that assumed it could do better for our people than we could do for ourselves. The same system of settler colonial violence continues to kill Indigenous men and boys, and murder and disappear Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit relatives. The same system of settler colonial violence stole our lands and in the best of circumstances forced our leaders to sign Treaties intended to eradicate our people, who have always been cast as a “problem” for the settler colonial nation state.
This is the messy, horrifying, troubling context in which Indigenous education research takes place. It’s heavy, hurtful, and bleak. It denies us hope. It denies us the ability to breathe, think, and feel the love and joy of Indigenous futures. That’s the intention and legacy of settler colonialism.
And yet, we’re still here.
No crappy, violent, greedy system can break our spirits and ties to our lands.
Armed with my people’s precious Coyote stories, the fierce love I learned from my Aunties, and an unwavering belief that our peoples have a future ahead of us that is as sweet as a deep purple huckleberry warmed from the sun and savored on a hot summer day—a future as strong as the earthy, nurturing goodness of bitterroot cooked perfectly and served humbly in a sacred broth of water and salmon.
Áwna! (Let’s go!)
My hope for Indigenous education research is that we do work returning us to ourselves, our stories, our ways of knowing and being.
My hope is that we do projects, build programs, transform institutions, develop curricula and policies, train or retrain leaders who can help us to understand and live more deeply into our Indigenous ways of knowing and being.
We already know the truth, strength, power, and importance of the teachings by which we are meant to live. Indigenous education research can help find mechanisms and test technologies to help us get there—to step more powerfully into the beautiful futures our ancestors dreamed for us.
To return to ourselves means we are living lives saturated with the hope, love, and understanding that:
Our strength and healing always come from our lands, communities, and cultures.
Áwna túxsha. (Now let’s go home.)
I drafted this essay for a Spencer Foundation project on Indigenous education research and futures. Please share your feedback with me by commenting below. Thank you!
This morning while I heated water for my coffee I had the good sense to turn off the light and look outside. Ahhh…morning sky on a cold, clear autumn day. Without going outside I know the air is crisp, like the yellowy-gold leaves crunching under my feet yesterday. That recent golden memory contrasts with the elegant black, inky sky who stretches as far as you can see in this sacred pre-dawn time.
Sky is huge! And like all wise beings, is not alone. Sky’s companions, stars, are luminous– puncturing the black blanket of sky like dazzling sequins sewn lovingly one by one creating the gorgeous constellations we see.
There’s Big Dipper standing on end looking like a throwing motion has just been completed. I wonder if it’s Big Dipper’s job to replenish the dazzling array each night? Maybe Big Dipper is like the commuter train I used to ride in San Diego, with workers pouring out at every stop, ready to take our places in our constellations of life. Perhaps a bell has chimed and Big Dipper threw all the other stars I see into their places. Or maybe stars find their own ways to their rightful places. Maybe Big Dipper has just thrown them all a treat, like the floats, pick-up trucks, and classic cars who cruise in our Treaty Day parade and throw endless supplies of candies and goodies to the eagerly awaiting children–of all ages.
The more I gaze at morning sky the more hopeful and inspired I feel. Oh look! There’s a smiley face of stars next to Big Dipper. Maybe my Auntie stitched that one together. It looks like her handiwork–I recognize the careful placement of bright shiny sequins atop a velvety rich bedspread. It’s handiwork both fine and fun, just like Auntie.
My eyes water with warm memories of my aunt, who had a quiet, fierce way of letting me know she loved me so much–a stubborn, persistent love for which our people are known–the kind of love that lets you know that even the stars can be rearranged for you. I feel so lucky. I grew up with that love surrounding me.
Mmm…in this early morning darkness, I see. My heart bubbles with gratitude like the kettle letting me know water is ready to being their delicious morning meeting with coffee grounds.
As I thank sky and stars for their beautiful presence, I reflect on the lesson my relatives are teaching me.
What star-blessings will I help arrange for someone today?
My heart is full. It is the first week of The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Fall 2021 Sessions. My heart is full because I have the tremendous joy and honor of sitting alongside brilliant scholars and inviting and encouraging them to dream…what is it they want in their writing, their lives, their futures?
I love this process. It’s magical.
When scholars–who care deeply about their communities, building a better word for the future generations, and transforming our institutions to be more socially just–when these good individuals have the time and space to step away from the pushes and pulls of everyday life–when they have the energy and courage to reconnect with their dreams–it is such a gift…to us all. When a group is inspired to do so, the power is exponential–modeling for each other what it can look like to accept fear, doubt, and individualism as part of the academic culture we’ve inherited, and lovingly move forward into a new academic culture with which we’re (re)creating or (re)connecting.
Of course, the beautiful teachings of the power of the collective and the understanding that witnessing someone grow and thrive is a blessing–these are not new. They are old, old lessons rooted in our beautiful Indigenous homelands. They are lessons older than humans, part of a curriculum of life Creator and our More than Human Relations established Since Time Immemorial.
Can you imagine what is possible if our academic institutions, built on Indigenous homelands, caught up with our timeless, blessed teachings?
I can. It’s a future with full hearts and beautiful dreams realized.
The morning is quiet and calm. Niní (aspen trees) hold their pose, still as a photo, their slender white trunks and thousands of leaves remain static, perhaps in deep prayer at this holy time of day when Aan (sun) rises to light our way.
Even magpie, blue jay, and squirrel, who so often use Niní as runways or landing pads, are breaking from their busywork.
In the low light of dawn leaves look a silvery gray. Is it the light? Evidence of smoke and ash from too many forest fires? Pollen? Or just the sign of Mother Nature reminding us summer will be winding down. Soon we’ll soak up the lessons and presence of fall. It makes me wonder: Are we ready for fall? Are we ready for the deep challenges and joys fall will bring?
Now I see leaves here and there, just a few, gently waving. Maybe these are the first of the leaves finishing their morning prayers. Now they are still again. Were they reprimanded for moving too soon? Like a squirmy child in church struggling against an uncomfortable pew?
I hope not.
I enjoy the graceful movement of Niní leaves. I find their movement fun and wise. Just as when children move, play, and engage Mother Nature’s classroom with joy and ease–there is a truthful, loving wisdom-knowing in process.
Wisdom-knowing in process. I think that’s a lovely vision for education. I ask myself: What kind of education do I want?
I crave an education system that gives us room–precious space in a precious place–to move, play, and breathe with our minds, bodies, and spirits all engaged in activities and relationships that nurture our growth as kind, fierce, critical and creative thinkers.
For many students and educators it’s back to school time. It’s a time for us to pause in this holy moment and consider: What do we want? Where are we going? What are the wisdom-knowing gaps most important for us to fill at this time?
Niní leaves remain mostly still. Now and then I witness soft movements. I notice how when one clump of leaves moves a momentum happens in which other clumps of leaves on the same branch will gently follow suit. Soon the entire branch waves, just a bit.
I smile in recognition of the just-needed lesson in front of me. What is my momentum? When am I the leaf that begins the process for a branch to gently wave? When am I responding to the movement and momentum of a neighboring leaf or branch?
I wish you kindness, fierceness, and creativity on your wisdom-knowing journey.