/Beth Wareham interviews Gabriel Horn
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Q:Rainy is a gifted child, often misunderstood, even by her teachers. Is this a common experience for a young Native American going through the American school system?
A: It has been said that they had no relationship with nature or natural beings. No relationship with the Mother. This had made them hard. It has been said of them, that they learn to think only with the head, not with the heart.
In Motherless, Rainy Peek does not surrender her Indigenous identity to an educational system designed to separate a child’s heart from the child’s mind. How many times have we heard when we have messed up; Use you head! How often have we ever heard someone say to us, Use your heart. So, yes, her resistance to the indoctrinating process is often misunderstood, but her ability to score high on tests is so valued that her presence in class, and in school, is tolerated. Her history teacher, Mr. Kline, and the school principal, Dr. Lawson, both know that, in the long run, Rainy Peek can mean recognition for him, and for the school, and recognition based on student academic achievement in public schools is all about “the bottom line”.
In Motherless, Rainy Peek grows up showing a spiritual connection with her ancestors, which includes an innate wisdom that always keeps her close to, and conscious of, the natural world; however, she also holds the special ability to retain, in her memory, what she hears, what she reads, and what she sees, everything she needs to excel academically in an American public school system which focuses on the memorization and regurgitation of information. And having both abilities is the gift. Though her innocence and her identity often suffer the assaults of a people out of balance, she remains on the path of her destiny…on the Path of Beauty.
Imagine that you live in a country you innately love in the way of the heart, like how it moves you to watch a myriad of water birds wading together in a flooded field after a storm, or the way the wind sweeps across the shore, caressing your face as you are standing alone, or the way the sound of wolves travels through the valleys past your front door, and makes you feel secure; the babbling creek that makes you feel happy; the sudden emergence of a dolphin in the bay, a manta in the curl of a breaking wave, these are the moments that reach into your heart and fill you up. And yet, your head, your mind, is very much aware of what any of these experiences has to teach you, forever reminding you of your relationship with all this life, and the right of all this life to exist. That’s Indigenous. That’s the gift.
If you don’t understand this deep felt connection to the Earth, Herself, you can’t know or understand a child with this gift. This is the way Grandpa and Rainy feel about the country in which they live called America, aware that under each step they take, for thousands of years, before it was called America, has walked generations of those who passed down to them this genetic code of ancient wisdom that has not been lost.
And that’s why children in this society are discouraged from feeling for anything outside themselves. If that code of wisdom still exists in a child, even as a tiny spark, he or she can grow up with feeling, which means that child is capable of empathy, compassion, and even love. But, then, how will such a child become an adult and participate in the desecration and the exploitation and destruction of our country in these moments of bonding in a way that is Indigenous? It’s the kind of love that only the heart can know.
And so, the intent of Western education appears always bent on putting out this spark, which from my experience teaching Indigenous children, remains in many of them still.
How many generations of Indian kids have had to sit in public school English classes and never read a story written by an Indigenous writer? How many Indian kids across the country attending public schools, have to see stereotyped images of their race and heritage burlesqued as athletic team mascots while no serious attention is ever given to their people’s literature, history, or philosophy? How many Indian kids have been forced to sit in social studies classes and never hear the teacher discuss the Indigenous social, peaceful, and governmental influences on this country, the United States of America? How many of them sit in science classrooms day after day, year after year, and never read or hear a teacher discuss the Indian people’s relationship to living things, their many agricultural, medicinal, astronomical, and mathematical achievements? And how many Native kids have suffered through American history and government classes while the teachers and textbooks expound on myths, and half-truths recreated to make Americans feel good about themselves, unable for children to learn from the past because they are not taught the past, as the history text and teacher, in most cases, gloss over, or completely ignore, the greatest acts of genocide and ecocide ever committed?
Talk about feeling alienated in your own land. It is no wonder why, “American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate twice the national average; the highest dropout rate of any United States ethnic or racial group.”
In Motherless, Rainy Peek embodies the symbiosis of heart and mind. It is the gift that enables her to have the personal power, the heart, to resist, and not absorb, the indoctrinating process of her Western education. She is an example for any girl, or boy, young woman, or young man, who can retain the information needed to achieve academic success, but using it one way or another, to help save our natural environment, and even themselves from participating in the brutality humans are inflicting, not only on the very planet on which we live, but on our Moon, and neighboring worlds.
In the end, Rainy Peek displays the power to alter the perception of the most academic of minds, a magical power emanating from the gift that manifests out of the union of heart and mind.
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