“With a foot in both worlds”: Carmen’s Narrative
By: Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France
Dr. Carmen Rodriguez de France
As an immigrant of Indigenous heritage from the Kickapoo Nation, Carmen acknowledges the privilege and responsibility that she holds to live and work on the land of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, and on the land of the W̱SÁNEĆ and the lək̓ʷəŋən people in British Columbia. Her work is always situated at the intersection of social justice, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and the experiences of in-service and pre-service teachers. She currently facilitates courses on Indigenous worldviews, Epistemologies, and Education in the Department of Indigenous Education at the University of Victoria. Her research is always motivated by her own interest to be a life-long learner and promote diversity and social justice.
As a former school teacher in México, Carmen understands the importance of developing and exploring approaches to teaching and learning as a tool to advance critical thinking. Through her participation in a variety of community-based initiatives in schools, recreational centres, art galleries, libraries, and other spaces for learning, her work focuses on creating awareness to better understand, appreciate, and learn from the histories and stories of the Indigenous people of Canada and other parts of the World. She is committed to strengthening collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada aiming to create a better shared future.
Monterrey is a city of international relevance for business people and for México’s economic growth; this was where I went to school, I learned to speak a second language, and developed long lasting friendships that I still hold dear to my heart. These friendships were built and cemented in our childhood and perhaps because of that, we learned to trust each other and rely on each other. When I think of what makes these friendships relevant, I think of three main values that have shaped us throughout time: Care, Love, and Respect. Most of us were fortunate to live in safe and loving homes, raised by our parents, and being afforded the opportunity to go to school, to learn, and to grow as individuals. While we have lost some friends to the Spirit world, most of us live content lives in various places around the world but we remain connected using technology that allows for real time communication. Throughout the years, we have coincided in our hometown, and the face-to-face visits are magical in that, despite not being together for many years, we visit as if it had been yesterday when we last talked. These relationships anchor me to my hometown, bring memories of first loves, first scars, first jobs, and first good-byes…
Not long after I had arrived in Victoria, BC, I experienced for the first time in my life, the beauty of snow, the mystery of the individuality of each snowflake, and the possibility of snow angels! The desert lands where I had grown up contained their own beauty but I never imagined how wonderful it would be to play in the snow.
I arrived as an international student, alone, pursuing dreams contained in a suitcase that also carried my past; my past, including a Catholic upbringing, a safe and loving home, caring siblings, Indigenous and Spanish heritage, the ability of a full functioning body, and the ability to speak English, and understand (or so I thought) the ways of living and being of the people of the place that would become my new home. As an educator and life-long learner, as a former classroom teacher, a mother, and a community member, I hold the privilege of living on the lands of the lək̓ʷəŋən, the Esquimalt, and Songhees Nations as well as of the W̱SÁNEĆ nations. I also hold the responsibility to live on these lands with care, respect, and honour, and to share the knowledge that has been shared with me with the intention to amplify awareness and action, to unveil the truths that this country, like many other countries, holds with regard to inhumane treatments of its citizens, and to reflect on the footprint that I leave behind.
The Year of the Blizzard
I arrived in Canada in the year known in Victoria as “The year of the blizzard”—1996. My encounter with snow was unique as I had never seen that much snow in my life. I learned to make snow angels and learned how not to make snow people; I was gathering snow instead of rolling it. When one is used to desert and arid zones, like me, who was born in Northern México, making snow figures was an ordeal…
There was much more I learned in those first months as I started working on my Master’s degree at the University of Victoria but one of the events that will forever stay with me is when in late October, I watched people wear a poppy on their lapels, and some acquaintances talked about their school-aged children reciting “In Flanders Fields” for the school Assembly. I had no knowledge or experience with the celebration of Remembrance Day given that México barely participated in the World Wars and thus, we don’t have a day of remembrance. Being the curious learner that I am, I decided to go downtown and witness the ceremonies.
I learned about honouring the unknown soldier, and I witnessed the reverence people hold for their citizens, their veterans, and their country, which I had yet to call my own. I made it a responsibility to go downtown every year to pay respect to these moral and civic duties to the fallen, and to the histories and the stories behind the celebration. I started reading about the two world wars, the participation of Canada liberating the Netherlands, and the importance of this Remembrance Day became very clear to me.
In all these years, I have never heard anyone say things like: ” This is history, why don’t people get over this.” Or “Oh… here we are with the poppy again...” or “Why can’t the veterans just move on? That happened more than 60 years ago.” I could have asked these questions and justified myself by declaring ignorance. But I also think about how my ignorance could have been interpreted had I asked in a certain tone or with a particular intention because I did not know… What would have given me the right to ask those questions or to make such comments? Would I have found someone to teach me? Would I have unknowingly offended people? The motto of Remembrance Day is “Lest We Forget.” Would we one day want to not remember? Would we want to ‘just move on’? Don’t we have a duty to pass on these histories and occurrences to the young generations? Why then, I wonder, do we still hear people say about Residential Schools or the history of the Sixties Scoop or about other historical injustices in this country: “Why don’t people just move on?” or “That happened so many years ago.”
These questions invite me to reflect on what happens when we consider things from a different side; ways in which we can try to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’. I also consider what is different between these histories and what is similar. Feminist and social justice scholar Judith Butler would invite us to consider: “Why do we mourn some lives and not others?” So I ask: How can we learn to walk with a foot in Western worlds and a foot in Indigenous worlds? How can we learn to live in harmony and in balance, with the earth and each other, aspiring to create a shared future?
I have learned that learning takes time, reframing, honesty, and humility.
The uncertainty of more evident climatic changes has forced us as humans, to listen to the Earth, and to pay attention to her calls: fire, drought, flooding, and other natural occurrences continue to destabilize our existence, and disrupt the relationship we have with the Earth.
Potowatomi ethnobotanist Robin Wall-Kimmerer remind us of our shared responsibilities to care for the Land, and consequently, for each other: “Ecological restoration is an act of reciprocity, and the Earth asks us to turn our gifts to healing the damage we have done. The Earth-shaping prowess that we thoughtlessly use to sicken the land can be used to heal it. It is not just the land that is broken, but our relationship with land. We can be partners in renewal; we can be medicine for the Earth” (Robin Wall-Kimmerer; Minding Nature, Vol. 7, No.2; 2014 ).
How can we restore the balance? How can we learn to listen to the Land? How can we learn to live in harmony with the Earth and with each other? Perhaps some of these questions can be answered by first becoming aware of what is our own personal relationship to the natural world.
I grew up surrounded by mountains. I woke up everyday greeting the sun as it showed its face behind the Cerro de la Silla (saddle mountain), and I followed its journey throughout the day until it set behind the Cerro de las Mitras (Miters’ Hill). Without knowing it at the time, I was developing a connection to that landscape that saw me grow up in Monterrey, the third largest city of México—a city that carries its own beauty in its desert flowers, its brown soil, and its concrete spaces.
The city is designed with not many green spaces because there is not enough water to fulfill the needs of the people and the needs of the natural world. While there are two dams in close proximity to the suburban area, most of us learn very early in life the value of water and its conservation. Growing up, we had restrictions on how we were allowed to use water and how much we were allowed to have during the day. I learned to shower using a bucket so as not to waste water while waiting for the hot water to come out of the shower head. I learned to reuse the rinsing water from the washing machine by diverting the hose into a big tank, and using the water to wash the car or to sweep the floors. Caring for water has always been a priority of mine. Growing up in desert landscapes has shaped my view of this natural element, which Indigenous people around the world see as a relative.
Water is one of the four elements that create change and maintain homeostasis within nature. Earth, Fire, and Air complement this need for balance. For millennia, Indigenous people have learned to listen to nature and appreciate the forces within these elements that allow birds to nest, forests to grow, whales to migrate, and other creatures to hibernate. In other words, they have learned to pay attention to the cycles of nature and consequently, to respect her own cycles and timing. Indigenous people do not see nature as a separate entity but see themselves as one with nature. After all, are we not made of ecosystems? Our bodies mirror the natural world: we are made of ecosystems (the digestive system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, etc.), which need to work in a balanced way in order for us to be healthy. When one of these systems is disrupted, we get sick or we might act in disrespectful ways towards each other; we might even become violent. Regaining our balance is necessary to be wholesome and to re-establish our sense of connection with ourselves. Extending this notion to the natural world, one could argue that in order to heal the Earth, we need to heal each other. These are wise words from an Ojibway prayer that Reverend McKay, the first Indigenous person to lead the United Church of Canada, and a spiritual guide at the University of Winnipeg, shares as he aspires to weave Indigenous spiritual knowledge and Western spiritual knowledge that makes us reflect on the need to restore inner balance, and balance with the natural world.
In the past 100 years, western science has allowed us to learn much about the natural world, outer space, and the inner worlds of plants, animals, and other creatures including humans. It is due to scientific knowledge that we have developed ways to live longer (though not necessarily better), improve technological advancements, and have real time access to occurrences around the world. Indigenous science has also contributed to advancing knowledge; for example, we are more aware of the consequences of the properties of plants and how those properties contribute to a decrease in illnesses and ailments. According to some reports, “students in all health professional programs are receiving mandatory curriculum that educates them specifically about Indigenous history and health.”
These changes in curriculum are not only helping us better understand the importance of Indigenous knowledge but at the same time, they contribute to decolonizing practices and perspectives that have been dismissed for a long time. Paradigms such as the ones from the Canada Council for Learning (2007) can serve us as models on how to start reframing our understanding of health, education, policies, and other relevant topics for Inuit, Métis and First Nations peoples and in doing so, learn to restore the balance within and around ourselves.
I am from the mountains, from the valley, and from the laughter of family.
I am from the place where brown is beautiful: soil, skin, and desert clay.
I am made of family bonds, of ancestral memories, of festival and dance,
of food and music! I carry within me the love of my parents, and my siblings,
and I am carried by the love of my life partner and my three shining stars…