I wrote this poem after a chance conversation with a Aboriginal faculty member Shauneen Pete, who later joined my committee. We were talking about the joys of spending time outside, the difficulty of speaking of the wisdom we received from the land through which we walk, and ways in which we received that wisdom. It seemed that,
While the conversation provided an important, (albeit small) "crack in consent"
(marino, 1997, p. 17) (yes, my subject position existed!), it also affirmed that this subjectivity* was neither welcomed nor sanctioned in our place of employment. We both needed to continue whispering – it seemed.
At that time, neither of us felt safe enough to speak explicitly with our students and colleagues about the possibility of derived knowledge (although she did slide in a comment once in awhile that left a student with quizzical looks). I left the conversation, wondering:
it have been
to write this piece
if I had brown skin?
Might I then,
in some places at least,
be able to speak freely?
Part of the problem has been that for a white woman living in Saskatchewan and working in an education faculty, there is (not yet) any visibly accepted cultural or academic tradition that openly encourages explicit dialogue and knowledge-making with the more-than-human worlds of plants, animals and rocks etc..
Now, having moved beyond my own shamanophobia (Harner, 1988; Wallis, 1999) and fear that my learning would be automatically accused to be an act of cultural appropriation, I have begun to speak. But when I do, it is with the awareness that I am still treading on dangerous ground. While my white skin offers the protection of invisibility that many of my Aboriginal colleagues cannot choose, in a culture dominated by assumptions of Western science, I remain, at least for now, an outsider.
*note that the notion of subjectivity is dissociated from identity here (see glossary), since I am working from a poststructural perspective only in this 'bit' of theorizing. In the context of this writing, it was discourses of feminist poststructuralism that I had most access to – discourses which still tended to reinscribe humans at the centre and offered little or no space for agency and intelligence of other-than-human persons (for exceptions, see Armbruster, 1998; Bell & Russell, 2000). In other places (e.g. Buhner, 2004; Haraway, 2003; Harvey, 2006a, 2006b; Jensen, 2004; Smith, 2004, 2006) these spaces have been created.