Honoring Indigenous Cultures and Histories | Jill Fish | TEDxMinneapolis

Translator: Ivana Krivokuća
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven [Speaks in foreign language] Good evening everyone, my name is Jill Fish,
and I’m from Skarú:rę’ Kayeda:kreh, the Tuscarora Nation. Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that the land
that the call center is built upon, the land that we’re all standing on, are the traditional homelands
of the Dakota people, that for you all to exist
in the city of Minneapolis today, the Dakota people had to experience
genocide, displacement, reservation confinement and assimilation so that colonists
could take their homelands and turn them into yours. And this is settler colonialism. It’s not unique to the United States
or even the Americas. You can see instances of it
all around the world, where a settler population presumes
racial and ethnic dominance over indigenous population and through their settler tactics erases
the indigenous populations’ narrative to replace it with
a narrative of their own. So when you build a nation
off of this narrative, you see one history, one story –
it’s that of the settlers. And this is a problem because narratives
are a tool for us as a people to understand who we are. They tell us where
we’ve been, where we are, and future possibilities
for where we might end up. So when you fail to acknowledge
indigenous narratives in favor of settler narratives, the narratives of conquest,
of exploration, of taming a continent – “In recent years and even decades,
too many people have forgotten that truth. They have forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire,
tamed a continent and triumphed over the worst evils in history.” – you’re denying indigenous people
the right to exist. How do we as indigenous people honor and transcend a past
that is seldom acknowledged, and when it is, it’s our plague,
not our perseverance, a culture not seen as thriving,
but as long-lost? This is a question
that I ask myself a lot. I’ve dedicated my research
in psychology to it, and as a therapist,
I’ve spent many times helping others meaningfully integrate
their past and their present. It is deeply personal for me. My past goes all the way back
to the 15th century. That’s when our people, the Tuscaroras, came together to reside
around the Great Lakes. Over time, my ancestors migrated to the North Carolina region,
United States. And that’s where they lived
in the 17th century when European colonists began
moving into our territory, raiding and capturing people
from our tribe to sell into slavery. These settler acts of violence
ignited the Tuscarora war. And during this war, in one moment, nearly 1 000 Tuscarora men,
women and children were killed or captured
at their stronghold Neoheroka. In this particular moment,
this particular act of violence – it started my ancestor’s journey
back to the Great Lakes region. And this is where they would join
the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas
in the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. That is a 1 300 mile journey
by foot and by water, through forests and through mountains, while some of my ancestors carried
the remains of those relatives lost to danger and sacrifice. And we survived. Our present-day community is an area
of land given to us by the Senecas. The Tuscarora reservation
is where I was born. It’s where I was raised in community, with my culture, my language,
my beliefs and my traditions. It’s even where I was educated
through the sixth grade. So not only did we survive –
we still exist. Our narrative has persisted
for more than 300 years. How many of you knew all that about my tribe, our migrations,
our present-day community? Go ahead and take a look around and see how many people
are raising their hands. This is how it often feels for me,
as a Tuscarora women in settler spaces – all these people looking at me,
but not truly seeing me. This is how it felt
when the sixth grade ended and my reservation
no longer had the resources to continue our education there, so we were forced to mainstream
in a school in a nearby town. I went from a cohort
of less than 30 Haudenosaunee students to being trust into a cohort
of over 300 predominantly white students. It was all these people looking at me, but not truly seeing
my history or my culture. This is the first time I cut myself. I carved the word “hate” into my arm. And so there I was,
this 12-year-old Native American girl, already hating herself. And it wasn’t one event that led up
to this moment of heartache for me and many others that would follow it. It was a process,
one that took my humanity in all its richness and complexity, and instead of calling it a strength, stripped it away bit by bit,
and called what was left a weakness. We call this the deficit
model in psychology. It’s more than a framework
for understanding the psychological experiences
of those from different cultural groups. It’s a worldview, a belief system, one that perpetuates
a very specific narrative. And the narrative is this: not only is my culture and history
seen as different from yours, but it’s for that reason
that I’m deficient. And this narrative became apparent to me throughout all my
mainstreamed experiences. I was immediately forced to trade in
my Tuscarora language and culture courses for French and US history. I had peers spit on me
and make fun of me for being poor, while I had parents
of friends, who I did make, forbid their children from coming over
to hang out with me. On top of that, school administrators
contacted my parents, threatening them to have the police
come to my birthday party to monitor it for drugs and alcohol. This was all because I was
from the reservation. And while it’s true we didn’t come
from a lot of money, and addiction was
certainly present in my family, these things are not
because I’m Native American. It’s because settler society is an extension of the colonial dynamics
that this nation was built upon, and seeks to oppress in the present
just as it did in the past. I didn’t know this then, so at 12 years old, it left me
feeling alienated and unwanted. This is how a lot of Native youth feel. For suicides, Native youth
between ages of 10 and 24 years old comprised 35% of completed suicides,
compared to 11% of whites. For a high school education, Native Americans have
the lowest high school graduation rates across the nation, in comparison
to every racial and ethnic group. And as for a college education, one percent of Bachelor’s degrees awarded
go to Native Americans. That’s one percent,
whereas 68% go to whites. And so tonight, I want to know: when are you all going to stop asking what’s wrong with indigenous
and Native youth, and start asking what’s wrong
with our society? What would it be like
if instead of stripping away the historical and cultural contacts that are so central to our sense of selves
and ways of being in the world, that we use them as the foundation
from which all our experiences can and should be understood? Can you imagine what that would do
for our development? I sought out to answer this question when I became the first in my family
to pursue higher education. And when I became a PhD student, I came across a model of human development that took culture and history
into consideration. It’s called the ecological systems model by developmental psychologist
Urie Bronfenbrenner. The focus of the model is on an individual and their interactions
with their environment, and how those interactions
impact their development. The model is widely used in psychology,
but it’s also used widely in our society. People use it to structure
educational programming around it as well as community programming. This is what the model looks like. At the core of the model
you have the individual, you have their traits
and their characteristics. If we were to think of my experiences
as an example for this model, this is where I would go. We would place me
at the center of the model. At the second level of the model,
there’s the microsystem. The microsystem refers to environments that the individual
is directly involved in, that impact their development. For me, microsystems included my parents,
my peers and even the school. And at the third level,
we have the mesosystem. The mesosystem refers
to interactions between environments that we identified at the microsystem
that impact my development. A perfect example of this would be
the school contacting my parents and threatening them with the police. That’s an interaction
between two microsystems that had an impact on me. And at the fourth level,
we have the exosystem. Similar to the mesosystem, the exosystem also refers
to interactions between environments, except this time, one of the environments
does not directly involve me, so it has an indirect impact on me. An example of this would be the parents
of the friends that I made who forbid their children
from coming over to play with me. I didn’t know those parents, I wasn’t involved with them
in any sort of way, but through their decision, they had an influence
and an indirect impact on my development. At the fifth level of the model,
we have the macrosystem. And the macrosystem refers to trends seen in the previous environments
in the ecological systems model. So these can be trends in norms,
ideologies, opportunity structures, but this is where we capture culture. And past the sixth grade, my culture was no longer
the center of my development. It was effectively moved to the margins. If culture was discussed,
it often wasn’t mine – it would be the culture
of mainstream society, of settler society, so that’d be settler societies,
language, beliefs, norms. Decades later,
apart from the original model, a final layer was added
to the ecological systems model. It’s called the chronosystem. And the chronosystem
is the third dimension of the model, so it cuts across all the other layers
of the ecological systems model. This refers to consistencies
or inconsistencies seen over time throughout the model. So this is where we would capture
something like a personal history or even an ancestral history. The unfortunate thing is you can see
that it’s situated underneath the model. It’s hidden underneath there, so it makes it really easy
to overlook these historical pieces. It was also developed at such a later date that people would often refer
to the earlier version of the model, which doesn’t include the chronosystem
in it, so again, it’s overlooked. The ecological systems model had
all the components I was looking for, but in its current condition, it didn’t tell me anything new
about the Native American experience. In fact, as I used it as a framework to understand the research literature
in Native American psychology, I found that it encouraged
the deficit perspective, because when you place the individual
at the core of the model, it allows researchers who use the model to use the individual
as the point of analysis, and then it allows those same people
to situate problems in individuals and the communities that they come from, overlooking all the other factors
at the outside of the model. And because my ancestors didn’t pave
the way to resistance for 1 300 miles for me to settle for the status quo, I decided to go back to the drawing board
with the ecological systems model to rearrange it, to reconceptualize it so that it made more sense
for the Native American experience, and before using it in my own research
in our communities. And so what I did was
I took this 39-year-old model, and I proposed to do two things to it. I proposed to take the chronosystem
and then move it to the core of the model. It would still be the third dimension, but it would also now be
the starting point of the model. And then the second thing I proposed to do was to take the macrosystem
from the outside of the model, to move it to the inside. It would now be
the second level of the model. Everything else would remain the same, so it’d be followed by the individual, the microsystem, the mesosystem
and the exosystem. But this move to put the chronosystem
and the macrosystem at the core, it accomplishes so many goals. By putting the chronosystem
at the core of the model, we’re laying the foundation from which all the other remaining layers
of the model can and should be understood, that any consideration of the present-day
experiences of Native American people must be grounded in the past. And then by taking the macrosystem and putting it from
the outside of the model to the second level of the model, we’re moving to center culture
and development, so we would be centering
Native American ways of being and knowing instead of pushing it at the margins,
which is common in our experiences. And then by taking both
the chronosystem and the macrosystem and putting it at the core
before anything else as discussed, we are inextricably connecting
culture and history into the remaining levels of the system, making it impossible to ignore
the role that culture and history play in our development and the present-day
experiences of native people. Adopting the reconceptualized
ecological systems model moves us away from
the deficit perspective, because it forces you to acknowledge that settler colonialism has created
long-standing incongruencies between native people
and settler society in the present day. It challenges you to look
beyond the individual to the culture and history
of the individual, and how these things interact
with the culture and history of settler society. It begs the question: does settler society support or constrain
indigenous histories and narratives? It also moves you towards this place where you can no longer
contribute to the narrative that natives are deficient. You have to acknowledge
that settler society is deficient in meeting the needs of people who don’t come from a settler history
or a settler culture. (Applause) That society does not equally integrate
indigenous histories and cultures into its framework. Adopting the reconceptualized
ecological systems model will also move you towards
a cultural-strengths-based perspective, where by leveraging
the chronosystem and macrosystem, you can begin to acknowledge and validate
indigenous histories and cultures. But to do so, you have to start
by asking yourself several questions. Are the spaces you create,
are your actions, are your institutions, are your classrooms structured
around settler society to the end of excluding
indigenous histories and cultures? Are you working to shift paradigms so that these spaces shift
to be more inclusive? Are you actively correcting
for inaccurate histories, negative stereotypes and the degradation
of indigenous histories and cultures? There are over 567 tribes
in the United States. Are you familiar with the cultures
and histories of those whose land are you standing on? And to that end, are you familiar
with your own culture and history and how that influenced you
in the present day? Ask yourself these questions, and this is how you can start
to acknowledge and transcend your settler colonial past. Yawa. Thank you. (Applause)

  1. Thank you Jill Fish for so clearly, patiently, and thoroughly presenting your work. Everyone should see and hear you – you offer a hand toward understanding to those who should become allies and to those indigenous people who have been erased and silenced. Your revisioning this model is ground breaking and game changing.

  2. As a Canadian I’m quite tired about hearing about Indigenous history.

    I felt like we ran too far in the other extreme. We went from “no one knew about the residential schools” to remove statutes of our first Prime Minister because he hung Indigenous peoples. Next year we’re getting a holiday to honour Indigenous peoples. I get it, Canada’s done some stuff in the past. But I’m a 1st generation Asian-Canadian, why do I have to reflect on what Canada did? It’s not like I did anything.

    There’s growing resentment in Canada of the Indigenous population and I think it’s because we ran too far the other way. This resentment of Indigenous people did not exist until a few years ago. There needs to be a balance. We should not forget what Canada did but let’s not guilt all Canadians for things 95% of the non-Indigenous population had nothing to do with.

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