You are running on indigenous land

Image of person standing in a wooded area looking towards the sunlight. Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

You are running on indigenous land!

Today’s blog is a reflection in process. I’m questioning my views, asking questions of myself, and trying to contextualise my recent learnings, and know this topic is something I know very little about. My language or my thinking may not be correct. I am trying to learn and see the world as others do. Please, feel free to help me use the correct language, to challenge and guide my thinking, to tell me when I get it wrong and why.

On my way home from college I pass a sign saying ‘you are running on indigenous land’. So that’s been nearly every day for three months now. I passed it, I looked at it, I saw the words, but you know I never really read it. I wasn’t active in engaging with the meaning of those words. However, in the last few weeks I’ve being working with an amazing and diverse group of educational leaders in Royal Roads University in Canada and while I’m the one delivering the sessions, I believe I am learning as much from them as they are from the module or me. As part of our reflective practice, I have offered international examples and perspectives and each week the question has arisen in some form or other about how this will work in indigenous schools and communities. And listening to the stories and shared experiences of the indigenous members of this group I can understand why. I can also begin a new reflective journey to examine my own perspective and biases of who black and brown people are and the barriers placed around them.

Until now, I have viewed inclusion, exclusion, and racism of black and brown students from the lens of immigration. Why? Because in the context of ‘my world’ that’s what I know. But the invitation to listen, speak, contribute, and learn (something I have learned is a foundation to the sense of community for indigenous peoples) has challenged my views to reflect and reconstruct my understanding of inclusion and exclusion. I’m not new to knowing about the history of indigenous peoples and was first introduced to the language of First Nations when travelling in Canada many years ago. I’ve visited museums in Australia, Canada, and the US and thought I got it. I didn’t. And of course, I couldn’t because I was exploring it from a white, dare I say it, tourist/outsider perspective. I was on holiday, learning what I could but then leaving it all behind. And I might be able to get away with justifying that back in Ireland but what about while I have been living and working on the land of indigenous peoples here in Boston? Why did I walk past that sign so many times and never once think of the exclusion and discrimination against people in their own ancestral lands?

My biases in terms of the colour of people’s skin really came down to seeing them as people coming to my land, my country, and me working to promote their inclusion in my classroom, school, and community. And yes, I say that in the knowledge that there are Irish black and brown people. They were born in Ireland, grew up in Ireland, contribute to the social fabric of Ireland. But this knowledge and my biases clashed without any awareness on my part! The generosity of sharing and patience of the indigenous people I am now engaging with has helped me see the world from yet another view and I think this experience is helping me go further than reflecting on how I view black and brown people and their land/our land. I’m beginning to reflect more and question my views on ethnic minority groups in Ireland, specifically our Traveller Community. While I know the travelling community face racism and discrimination in Ireland, I think I straddled the line between viewing them as a minority versus an ethnic group. However, I never considered them as an indigenous ethnic group. I’ve googled (imagine I had to google that), they are, but only formally ‘granted’ this recognition since 2017. I recognised that Irish travellers are from Ireland, the land is theirs as much as the settled community though we have infringed upon, and I think curtailed and devalued their culture and traditions. We see it as a them and us and they should just assimilate for us. We haven’t stop to consider what we are losing as a nation if we loose their stories (our history of a shared land), their language, their culture. I wonder should we even be calling the Traveller Community a minority group because, as I’m beginning to learn here in the US there is a difference between the two terms. Another google search and I found that the UN have provided a definition for both. I don’t know which is correct for the Traveller Community but perhaps they and not the majority should be deciding that. So, it took me coming to another country, thinking about other races and nationalities, to make me aware of those who owned the land before ‘we did’ in Ireland. Thank you to my Royal Roads community of learners for challenging my perceptions and opening my world view a little bit more.

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