Returning to Ourselves

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.)  

Photo: Pátu Mt. Adams, Yakama Homeland. Credit: Michelle M. Jacob

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!

Morning Lessons and Star Blessings

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?

Photo credit: “Big Dipper” by `James Wheeler is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Do you want to be coached to live and work with greater kindness, fierceness, and creativity? Click here to learn more about working 1:1 with Dr. Jacob.

Full Hearts and Beautiful Dreams

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.

Join us.

Yakama Homeland. Photo Credit: Michelle M. Jacob

Registration is open for The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Fall 2021 Sessions.

Morning Lessons with Niní

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.

Photo credit: “Aspen trees” by t i g is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Do you need a kind, fierce, and creative community in which to joyfully and confidently plan your writing projects for this year? Join us on Tuesday, August 31 at 9-11am Pacific (12-2pm Eastern) to Plan Your Writing Projects (The Auntie Way)!

Back to School Hopes and Dreams

It’s back to school time for many colleagues and students. I have so many hopes and dreams for this school year. I’ll share them with you even though it feels risky to hope and dream amidst the ongoing pain, loss, and uncertainty of the pandemic. Yet, one of the lessons from the pandemic I’m carrying with me is I cannot allow fear and uncertainty to steal away my ability to hope and dream. I believe all beings thrive when we express our kindness, fierceness, and creativity. With that in mind, I am daring to dream…of a school year full of students and educators engaging in lessons and activities that help us grow, understand, and think creatively.

I hope each day we are able to find pockets of time and a connection to place that are rich with relationships–with ourselves and other beings–that nurture and affirm Tma’áakni (Respect).

I am hoping and dreaming of a school year full of meaning, purpose, and joy.

I am dreaming and hoping for systems with generosity and grace built into them so rest is encouraged and allowed when needed.

I am dreaming and hoping for curricula that challenge us to envision the fiercest, most beautiful futures we can imagine.

These are my dreams. I know they are possible because I’ve had the honor of witnessing and experiencing them at times, in ways here and there, like beautiful trees purposefully planted in an arboretum. And that’s wonderful. I love those pockets of arboretum time, space and place.

And I am seeing how the pandemic has taught me the field trip to the arboretum is not enough.

What I really want is for schooling to shift into the generous and generative education of the forest.

I’m wishing you a school year full of care, comfort, hope, and possibility–as nurturing as breathing in the fresh mountain air in a pristine forest.

As you journey into the school year I wish you a luxurious carpet of soft needles to cushion your every step in the wondrous forest.

And the trust, knowledge, and wisdom that everything you need is within you and around you, in this precious and sacred space of education forested with loving hopes and dreams.

Forest on Yakama homeland. Photo credit: Michelle M. Jacob

Make this the best school year ever! Join these upcoming workshops in the Anahuy Mentoring Leadership Academy:

August 25, 2021 at 12-2pm Pacific time (3-5pm Eastern): What is at the center of your work?

August 31, 2021 at 9-11am Pacific time (12-2pm Eastern): Plan your writing projects!

Sounds of Summer

Last night I sat in my rocking chair on the patio outside my grandpa’s old home. Clouds had rolled in and the shade felt delicious. A cool breeze provided additional relief, and I think all beings were glad to get a break from the hot sun and smoky air. Maple tree leaves fluttered and danced their delightful tune.

Behind our van I could hear the familiar sound of basketball dribbling. My nephews had started up a game. Mostly I heard the bounce, bounce, bounce of the ball, along with the shuffling of shoes on ground–the quick start and stop movements of young knees and legs. Every once in a while I heard a loud voice call out in protest, perhaps indicating too-rough defense by an opponent. And of course there were collaborative shouts of delight or amazement, “Oooooh!” and I could imagine one of the boys making a shot from well behind the 3-point line, or perhaps doing a dazzling spin move, or providing a no-look pass that brilliantly assisted a younger brother to make an easy basket.

Rock, rock, rock, my chair went on the old wooden boards of the patio.

My dog goes back and forth between two of his favorite tasks: sitting at the corner of the yard keeping an eye on the ball-playing nephews, and sitting in front of the patio looking pleading and pitiful in equal measure–hoping I’ll give in and throw the ball for him. He loves to play ball. He loves guessing where it will go; he loves bonking the ball off his snout or teeth, tossing it to himself in a showy assist. He can spin, jump, and sprint with grace.

I hear the low pitch of a train horn and can picture the familiar site of an orange and black locomotive using its 4,400 horse power to pull a heavy load, chugging away alongside Highway 97, horn indicating it’s preparing to cross some of our roads on the reservation. My parents’ dog howls a greeting to the train, matching the pitch of the train horn exactly in a cappella beauty.

Rock, rock, rock.

Bounce, bounce, bounce.



Aren’t they lovely, these sounds of summer?

Photo credit: “basketball hoop” by acidpix is licensed underCC BY 2.0

Book sale is happening through August 9th! 20% off all books on my website, free shipping to U.S. addresses is included. Anahuy Mentoring book author royalties are donated to the Sapsik’ʷałá Program!

Check out the upcoming workshops in the Anahuy Mentoring Leadership Academy! Dates are listed below, click on the links to learn more.

  • What is at the center of our work? August 10 (for Indigenous peoples); August 25 (for everyone).

Finally, don’t forget The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Fall Sessions begin October 1.

Thank you for reading–I hope you have a day filled with delicious sounds in a beautiful place.

Smile at Dawn

I love the peacefulness of dawn. The air is cool and still. Birds narrate morning greetings. Squirrel chimes in with a loud song that sounds almost like laughter.

Sky changes colors, tone, and brightness in what seems to me a masterful meditation practice.

Trees stand absolutely still. Are they meditating as well?

I hear woodpecker in the distance, the loud burst of sound indicating an early start to their workday.

Deer saunters by, nibbling on greenery here and there, as usual modeling a patient pace of ease.

Crow squawks, their strong voice cutting through the soft, charming melody of all their bird relations.

I think of dawn as a quiet, still time.

But maybe that is not quite right.

Maybe dawn is a time of being.

Maybe dawn is a way of being.

Maybe I’m dawning.

Maybe you’re dawning.

These thoughts bring a wide, easy smile to my face. A smile that reaches up to my eyes and into my heart.

Good morning.

Photo credit: “Yakima Delta Sunrise” by nextSibling is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Write with Michelle! Registration for The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Fall Sessions is now open. Click here to learn more and sign up.

The Sound of Freedom

Last night there were a lot of fireworks going off on my reservation. I admire the pretty colors on display, but I can’t stand the loud noise. To me, the explosions sound like guns and bombs; this is not the sound of freedom.

Luckily, our more than human relations are quick, as always, to remind us of another pathway forward. They remind us of simple, honest, and true teachings. “Do you want to celebrate being free on this land?” X̱wɨɬx̱wɨ́ɬ (Meadowlark) sings the question as a pretty melody. “Observe. Listen. Move. Sing. Speak,” X̱wɨɬx̱wɨ́ɬ instructs.

And so, I do.

This morning I hear the sound of Hulí (Wind) rustling leaves on the tall trees in my grandpa’s backyard. The soft, gentle sound is punctuated by the bursts of Áy’ay’s (Magpie’s) call, almost siren-like when several speak at once, “Ay-Ay-Ay! Ay-Ay-Ay!

Now my parent’s K’usík’usi (Dog) is barking, the deep voice of a large shepherd who watches over us. Mimím (Mourning Dove) coos a greeting, encouraging me to keep noticing and learning from my beautiful more than human relations.

Like a good soup broth, Hulí gently rustling leaves keeps all the sounds of this morning tied together in a cohesive whole; each being belongs and has an honored contribution to make. I’m so glad I paused to listen and learn this morning.

As a Yakama person on my Yakama homeland, I’ve learned the sound of freedom is not the explosion caused by gun powder. Rather, it is the sound of wind tickling leaves on trees who have provided shade to generations of my family, as well as the symphony of voices of all the other beings who people this land. As I go about my day, I remember and give thanks for all my ancestors who bravely and prayerfully prepared the way for me to be here.

It is another good day on Yakama homeland.

Photo credit: “Western Meadowlark” by David Kingham is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Read more about lessons from Mother Nature’s classroom, including a story about “4th of July on the Rez” in Dr. Jacob’s book, Fox Doesn’t Wear a Watch.

Thanks for reading!

What’s Your Vision?

Having a vision for one’s life is important. In my Yakama culture, we have always known this. We have old traditions of sending a child to find their power in the mountains, blessed under the watchful gaze of sacred Pátu (Mt. Adams), everyone secure in the knowledge that each child would have exactly the experience needed to help them walk the path of life meant just for them. Such traditions, of course, are special occasions. We also see daily affirmation of the power and importance of vision in everyday life. Have you noticed it?

The young person spending hours perfecting their jump shot or crossover–even in 100 degree heat–we hear the bounce, bounce, bounce sound of the basketball hitting the ground. “Practice your free throws!” Auntie wants to yell while driving by, on the way to Safeway to get iced coffee. But she doesn’t interrupt. She knows this is sacred time. Time when the child so clearly sees the gap between where they are and where they want to be, and they use their tremendous focus and strength to fill that gap. If you pay attention, you can see them walking the path of their vision. They are learning and growing and becoming more deeply themselves. We are blessed to witness their brilliance.

You don’t have to be an energetic young hoopster to engage with and work toward your vision, however. Thank goodness.

I witness Elders sitting quietly, engaging their visions as well. Maybe as youngsters they were taken up to the mountains to sit up all night and find their power and vision in isolation. In everyday life on our reservation I more commonly see them sitting on a favored rocking chair, recliner, or couch. In silence, they sort through the generous storage of memories their heads and hearts hold. They reflect, remember, and can bounce back and forth between times long ago and today. Just as the energy of a young person bouncing a basketball is full of determined hope and optimism to fulfill one’s vision, so too do Elders have a vision sacred and special for their own lives. If you sit with them, and bring a loving and open spirit, they’ll share a bit of wisdom to help you prepare to walk your own path.

That’s the thing about visions. They are uniquely ours. They help us be strong, self-determined individuals.

Can you imagine a community full of people like this? I can.

What’s your vision?

Photo credit: “Mount Adams at dawn” by Alex Butterfield is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Fall registration is open. Sign up if you want to advance your vision through writing!

Pacing is Everything

I did my longest run of the year recently. Long runs are beautiful, wonderful, challenging things. Hour after hour of step, step, step, breathe, breathe, breathe, trying to remember when to take in fluids, calories. Deciding how much effort to put into each uphill and downhill. In long runs, as in life, pacing is everything.

Sometimes on long runs I feel tired, lonely, and begin to doubt whether I can reach my goal. At times like these, I try to remember to pay attention…to this step, this breath, this stride, this arm swing, this mile. I look for both lesson and teacher.

Let me tell you about some of my precious teachers.

Grandfather rocks, old and wise, weathered by time and the elements. And still here, now the size of small pebbles, too many to count, on this wonderful trail I enjoy. They are here and welcoming my presence, as they always do. They cushion my every step; supporting me, as our loving and generous more than human relations always do.

Do you smell the rich fragrance of the pine forest on a warm day? It’s the smell of love and generosity and wisdom and strength. How could I ever feel lonely or doubtful in such a blessed place?

Photo credit: “DSCN1095” by ken ratcliff is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Auntie Way Writing Retreat Summer 2021 Registration is now open! More info is here.