Wednesday, January 24, 2018

My Patronus is a Snow Leopard

This weekend in our congregation we are going to host an event in which we hear the story of the relationship between Lakota folks and white descendants of settlers in Minnesota.  A part of that will include the story of land return and will challenge us in the Northwest consider what our responsibility is to the First Nations of Washington.  For us in Seattle, that means the Duwamish.  The elementary children will have the opportunity to learn from a Duwamish teacher, experiencing songs, stories and even learning to dance. It's going to be pretty great. 

Even after living in Seattle for more than a decade, I've had few opportunities (largely because I haven't gone out of my way to find them) to learn about or expose myself to local indigenous culture.  I want to change that. I'm noticing that, like the cultural shift in awareness of the way white folks are blind to our privilege with respect to black folks, there's an increased understanding that we can easily commit micro-aggressions even in some common english expressions.

For example, consider, "So and so is the low man on the totem pole," or "let's pow-pow" or "such and such is my spirit animal." These take cultural, possibly sacred, images, appropriate them and trivialize them.  A totem poll has no hierarchy; there is no 'bottom'.  A pow-wow is a social and ceremonial gathering not a quick meeting in the break-room. And isn't it just so much cooler to say "My patronus is a snow leopard"? (Actually my patronus is probably a house cat.  Anyway, you can read more here, here and here).

It's exciting to me that our congregation want to be challenged to examine our whiteness - including the kind of language we use about and originating in indigenous culture - and I've go a few more resources for adults and children to help us learn and become more culturally sensitive.

The Seattle Public Library has great recommendations for books from toddler through Young Adult.  Also, at the Central Library location there is currently an exhibit of photography highlighting local First Nations.  I always find going to the downtown library a fun outing.  Another local resource with permanent exhibits highlighting indigenous culture is the Burke Museum.  Go for the dinosaurs stay for the basketry, beading and kayaks.  And finally, a built-in opportunity to be hosted in a Duwamish space is the Sunday afternoon portion of our event at their longhouse.
Photo: Haida bentwood chest. Burke Museum cat. no. #2291.

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