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The  Whispers

  • Writer's pictureKodie Mobbs

A Dose of Cultural Humility

I grew up surrounded by “whiteness’. I lived in an area that was known for white supremacy in which the area had been referenced as “Whitopia” in this video. I grew up with a degree of colorblindness, at least, when it came to the Native American relatives. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t aware of history, culture, and influence in my surroundings but I knew as much as a child of whiteness could know. I later came to learn the degree of my own colorblindness with a really good dose of cultural humility.

What is Cultural Humility?

Cultural humility is defined by the University of Oregon as

"a practice of self-reflection on how one’s own background and the background of others, impact teaching, learning, research, creative activity, engagement, leadership, etc."

Another source explains it as:

"an ongoing process of self-exploration and self-critique combined with a willingness to learn from others. It means entering a relationship with another person with the intention of honoring their beliefs, customs, and values. It means acknowledging differences and accepting that person for who they are."

My Wake Up Call

During my Social Work internship at a tribal agency, I was asked “what experience do you have with Natives?” I honestly didn’t know how to answer this question. In mere seconds I needed to reflect

back on my life experiences and interactions to provide an answer. Let’s just say I didn’t answer well and the response was a learning experience. You see, it wasn’t until my experience working with the tribe that my colorblindness began to fade. I realized people close to me, friends and family, were of Native descent. Part of our family’s trauma story began its healing journey through the assistance of a Native “seer”. When I was 14, I was taught how to make a dreamcatcher from a tree branch, beads, and fishing line by a woman. There have been many other memories such as these throughout my lifetime, but these two stand out the most. The Native cultures and peoples were all around me, I just didn’t “see” it nor did I understand how it impacted my culture or my life.

Each one of my interactions has a story, a memory. Some of them good, some of them not so good in the same way that life goes. The woman that taught me how to make a dreamcatcher…I didn’t know she was full blood Cherokee until her memorial service. This same woman I later came to discover was removed from her family by the government and adopted by white people, but I didn’t know about this till my colorblindness was challenged. The Native “seer”, was able to assist in locating a cousin that had gone missing six months prior. She and my grandma became close friends after this shared experience. The leased horses I rode and developed my horsemanship skills with as a teen came from a people who are Native. Not to mention the family members that are of Native descent that I had no awareness of as it wasn't something commonly discussed.

Building Awareness

With immigration, migration, and technology we are surrounded by many cultures and cultural influences that we may not have be aware of due to many factors such as cultural assimilation and cultural appropriation. I encourage you to be curious about your own culture the impacts on your life and in how they affect your interactions with other cultures. Often times we have an appreciation for cultures that are not ours, but inadvertently do harm. If you would like to know more about appreciation vs appropriation read this article. A couple of ways you can support the native culture is to be curious about how there are two sides to every story, or when you buy native prints or jewelry buy from a native or indigenous artist. One more very important aspect to consider is before you dress your child up as a person from another culture for the next costume contest or holiday, I encourage you to ask yourself how this may impact a culture that isn't yours. For example, dressing your daughter up as Pocahontas on Halloween. Have you ever wondered about the real story of Pocahontas? If you are curious read this article.

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