Volume 90, Issue 84

Wednesday, March 05, 1997

Yo's baby


Native resources on campus

Re: Native students face name calling, ignorance, Feb. 4

To the Editor:

After reading the aforementioned article, the part that bothered me the most was the paragraph: "Where is the native perspective? Here at Western there are no native language courses, no native professors, yet there are courses offered from other ethnic groups." For you see, I have taught a Mohawk language course here at Western for the past five years and again this year in the centre for the research and teaching of Canadian native languages within the department of anthropology. It is a credited, normally honours-level course.

However, special allowance and consideration is extended to students from other departments and faculties, most especially native students.

I am myself a Mohawk (a sort of native person for those readers unacquainted with the 53 different First Nations people within the boundaries of Canada) and a speaker of the language I teach. I am not partial to being called an Indian (I'm not from India), but I don't particularly like being overlooked or ignored either. I developed the texts and materials I use in my course, which I'm also presently teaching at Brock University in St. Catherines, and do occasionally teach at McMaster University in Hamilton. I would also like to mention that this course is now available on CD-ROM which was produced with support from the social science computing lab. I am anticipating that in the near future it will also be possible to offer Oneida and Ojibway in the same way.

In response to native perspective, I would tell you that I grew up on the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte Territory (an Indian Reserve) in eastern Ontario – in the Belleville-Kingston area – and during the course of teaching I rely heavily on that native perspective in order to help my students understand the Iroquoian (a cultural and linguistic group of which the Mohawk people are a part) way of looking at the world. I assume that the students enjoy my course as it is filled every year. The native language centre has been here in the department of anthropology since 1976. It has been a centre of development for Inuit, Oneida, Delaware and some Ojibway language materials over the years and, for as long as I have been here, it has seen the production of a fair amount of Mohawk language teaching and learning materials. It is always my hope that other native educators and students would take an interest in this place so that it could become a truly viable place of indigenous linguistic and cultural study and pursuit.

The native language centre does not have billboards to advertise its ware and concerns, but I would have thought that at least the First Nations learning resource centre was aware of its existence. Too bad.

The department of anthropology has for years offered a Native Peoples of Canada course which will also be offered again this summer, and only last year an Ojibway language course was offered through part-time and continuing education. There are courses here at Western that deal with native topics but they are not heavily advertised and are often subject to scheduling or the availability of personnel to teach them.

I have been at Western for 13 years and have been, for the most part, treated with respect by those around me. But occasionally there have been some who do not see me as worth of such. Those sorts of individuals usually do not extend respect to anyone, apparently happy in their own ignorance and misery. I often remind myself that I was raised amongst my own people where disliking, hating or suspecting the white man was the norm. It has taken me years to try and get over that attitude and yet, every now and then, it does bubble back to the surface. I do not like having to be on guard with every white person I meet or deal with.

I should also mention that being a native within the university system also means being labelled by other native people as a "white Indian." I have found that as First Nations people, we are often harder on each other than the white man is. His problem is often ignorance. What is ours? Nowadays I find myself too busy and teaching with my language to waste time dealing with other peoples' ignorances.

If I have made a difference with the course I teach, then I feel good about it. Being a Mohawk takes up all of my time and I like it that way. I enjoy talking to anyone willing to take the time to seek me out, regardless of racial, cultural or social differences. Nyawen, Megwetch, Thank you, merci.

David Kanatawakhon Maracle
Centre for the research and teaching of Canadian native languages
Department of anthropology

To Contact The Letters Department: gazoped@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1997