Monday, May 17, 2010

Why Native/Indigenous Knowledge Is Important

This is such an eloquent statement on the value of culturally relevant pedagogy for all people.


Why Native/Indigenous Knowledge Is Important
By Michael Heralda

There is some confusion regarding the idea of teaching native/indigenous knowledge in schools (K-12, colleges and universities) and its purpose – see the Arizona state measure (HB 2281) that was recently signed by Governor Jan Brewer banning Ethnic Studies programs in schools.

I share indigenous knowledge in my Aztec Stories presentations, in my CDs, and in the poems and narratives I write. I have been doing this since 1995 and I have visited and shared native knowledge at over 300 K-12 schools across the United States. Students and teachers alike have enjoyed what I shared and found the information relevant, important, enlightening, and inspiring to coin a few of the comments I have received over the years. Most teachers, as well as parents, recognize the value of culture and the arts.

One of the goals of my work is to instill a sense of pride in those genetically connected to the native cultures of this continent. Having a healthy sense of pride is, I believe, a solid foundation on which we can build a strong and meaningful life. Being respectful of nature, discovering our gifts/talents and developing them to a very high degree, being forthright, honest, and fostering a sense of integrity as well as discipline are all components that are continually expressed in native oral tradition stories. Oral tradition stories contain life lessons. When you can teach life lessons in a manner appropriate and tailored to an individual, where they immediately see the relevance, then there is a much greater chance that the lessons learned will remain in their conscious thoughts for a longer period of time - assisting them in making wise choices and decisions throughout their life. Plus, they will hand down this time-proven knowledge to their children and grandchildren. This is essentially what culture and heritage is all about.
For those listeners that are not connected, genetically or spiritually, to the native cultures of this continent, the messages I try to share, and what I want them to gain from my presentations, is an awareness of, and an appreciation for, the beauty, wisdom, and intelligence that the indigenous peoples of this continent have attained – to recognize their contributions and to see the differences in order to become aware of the similarities. This is the true value of programs that share culture.

When you look up the definition of the word “culture” in the dictionary it is described as “the quality in a person or society that arises from an interest in and acquaintance with what is generally regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, and scholarly pursuits, etc.” In other words, it is the highest accomplishments of a society! It is the best that a group has attained! Why wouldn’t we want our children and students to benefit from the best of all cultures?

Over the years people from various geographic locations and cultures of the world have shared stories with me about their ancestors’ traditions that are very similar to the ones I share from the indigenous people on this continent! I have come to realize that there is a universal consciousness that binds us all together no matter what part of the world our families come from. By learning about a particular culture, your own or another, you begin to develop an interest in your family’s heritage, traditions, and ceremonies. When this happens, you become more aware of who you are. There is no down side to this and the world becomes much richer for it. True diversity comes only from people with different backgrounds and perspectives working together.

The most important concept to grasp is that cultural programs are not exclusive programs – they are inclusive opportunities to see the world through a different set of eyes and from a different perspective. In order to engage your critical thinking skills different perspectives must be present otherwise we run the risk of becoming one huge mono-crop susceptible to disease. What we don’t need in the world is sameness (one thought or philosophy to follow) which has the potential to produce a lifeless homogenized state of mind with very little advancement opportunities. This is a perfect formula for stagnation and/or a gateway to a new Dark Age.

We still have a lot to learn about living with each other and with nature and almost every culture on this planet that still maintains and practices their rich traditions and ceremonies helps us get a little closer to recognizing that we are all one - I am you, you are me / Nehua ti Nehua (an ancient saying in the language of the Mexica people - Nahuatl).

Continue to share the knowledge of your ancestors. Find the means to provide for your children what is necessary so that they learn and become proud of their heritage and culture while at the same time becoming meaningful and productive contributors in their local and global communities.

Michael Heralda
Aztec Stories
Ph: 323-633-9599
P.O. Box 50221
Los Angeles, CA 90050

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