“I don't know what to write for this article,” I think to myself. And I've had this irksome writer's block for several weeks. A voice pipes up: “You're probably just constipated.” I’m not amused.
“What am I to say about education? My grammar will be all wrong. And I feel like the world is watching. All those Indians scare me – those who possess degrees and the practice of what I like to call the Indigenous Litmus Test.”
I imagine being a little strip of paper... and the conglomerate of Native Country embodied as a middle aged Lakota woman dips me into a solution. She pulls it out and reads me, the strip: “Not Indian enough. Not educated enough.”
A man's voice chimes in: “She's been writing since she could pick up a pen and put it on a paper.”
A flashback plays out before me: I'm sitting in my bedroom at 23, working on one of many developing scripts. It's all I know to do when I've run into too many dead ends and the phone hasn't rang for me to jump on a horse in front of a camera and act like an “Indian,” or haunt somebody. I stay fixed in this flashback and hope for that the Genius in me shows up soon. Eventually, I hear her:
“Remind them of their gifts,” she whispers. “Remind them that we exist.”
I laugh, “And what? Get committed? They won't get it...”
Suddenly, my Chapan (great-grandmother) appears, puffing on her little pipe with tobacco in it. She smiles... “You're writing for Indians aren't you?” I reply with a smirk: “We're not Indians because we're not from India. We're Nehiyawak.” She laughs at her little smart-ass know-it-all of a Grandchild - glad that I've stopped taking life so seriously.
“I don't even have my degree. It invalidates me.”
“It doesn't mean you can't write. Do it anyways. Degree or not.”
Last summer, I was enjoying a full night of revelry in Manhattan with a large group. I struck up a conversation with a friend of a friend, an Engineer, and we really hit it off. Suddenly he asked: “What do you do for a living?”
I said: “I'm an Actress.” To which he replied, “That's too bad – you're really smart.”
I couldn't help but respond: “I was a remarkable person before I became an Actress, and I'm still one now.”
It wasn’t the first time I had been stereotyped... Being Indigenous, being a Woman, being an Artist – it comes with the territory. But it truly pains me that I continue to sit in circles where I’m written off as shallow or uneducated.
And I’m not even sure what ‘education’ really means. How do we define it? Why are we quantifying it? Does education only count when it coalesces into a Degree? And only when that degree results in a “real” job? And does it only count when it occurs in a colonially sanctioned educational institution? I don’t see any marks or credits being given for walks in the forest with our parents and grandparents who taught us to gather medicine, hunt, or find our way when we're lost in the forest.
Isn't my education my own?
The growing trend of possessing a formal education appears to be one of necessity. As Indigenous people our identity and way of life continues to be challenged, and every year the colonizer finds new ways to piss us off: To disrespect our inherent rights; to capitalize on our culture, our land, our water; to wander ever farther from the Treaties; to steal our children through government policies...
We have placed a higher value on having an institutionally, colonially recognized education because it levels out the playing field, as we are forced to continually reiterate our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples- ad nauseum. It cannot be denied that we live in a world where a piece of paper from an institution leads to a better life for Indigenous people...
But if we continue quantifying education in the same way that we’re quantifying our Indigenous Identity - through value systems pertaining to colonial concepts and policies - then I daresay we'll be running into another trap of lateral violence, further fuelling divisiveness which is already causing suffering in our communities.
This is not to say education is not valid. I will not tell an Indigenous person not to go out into the world and pursue their education. No- I will advocate for affirmative action. I will advocate for the teaching that “Education is the new Buffalo.” I will support any Indigenous person who aspires toward the reclamation and revitalization of our languages and cultures, and I will urge them to bring any of that good medicine back to their communities.
Still, that all being said, I do not yet have my post-secondary degree… And it has been a conscious decision.
I consider my personal approach to learning and education a decolonized one – and why shouldn't it be? Why can't I listen to my instincts and go to Ceremony and ask my ancestors what the best path is for me on a Spiritual level, then pursue it fully and fearlessly, knowing that it is connected to my purpose here on Earth, as denoted by Kisemanito? And how is it the business of another person with a degree to mistreat me when I do not possess a colonially recognized education to match theirs?
No one Indigenous person is better than any other because they have a degree on their wall, and vice versa. And if we are to pursue education, let’s advocate to make it our own. Let us value one another for playing our given roles, as bestowed upon us from our ancestors and Creator. And let people find formal education in their own time, if that’s even a part of their purpose.
Because Kisemanito did not create all human beings the same. Not all of us were born to be Lawyers or Doctors or Professors or Engineers, and for good reason. Who's going to grow food? Who's going to make you laugh and cry after a long hard day's work? If someone is born to live traditionally, in the bush, on the plains, at home - then that's their business.
Let's challenge ourselves to support one another's knowledge journeys in whatever form they take. Let's not foster divisiveness. Let's allow the decolonization process to reach into our education. For all we know, one day our Prime Minister might stand before the world and direct their attention toward us and ask them to follow our lead in education the same way he's asked them to follow our lead in caring for the land.
And what will we bring to the table if all we're teaching them is what they’ve already taught us?
My grandmother puts more tobacco into her little pipe and smirks at me... “Ecosi. Good enough.”
Roseanne is a multi-faceted creative who calls herself a 'walking, talking Swiss Army knife'. She began performing on stage as a little girl, and now acts in TV, film and theatre productions across North America. She hails from an East Prairie Métis Settlement and is a proud Métis/Cree woman.