By Susan Lymbery, Teaching Faculty Member, Faculty of Academic and Career Preparation and Faculty of Arts and Humanities, VIU
I’d been twenty-five years out of high school when my son encouraged me to enrol at Malaspina University-College. Eight years later, I found myself teaching at Cowichan Tribes Yu’thuy’thut Adult Training Centre. One day, as my students were hard at work writing in their journals, Edgar Andrew Rice—the Hul’qu’minum teacher, stopped by. The students were so focused, they hadn’t noticed Edgar’s arrival. Clearly, he was curious to know what had silenced this especially exuberant class. I pointed to the day’s journal topic on the chalkboard.
What might happen if animals could talk?
Edgar took a step toward me and then stopped. His face was unreadable. Then, with apparent resolve, Edgar walked to the blackboard and raised his fist. I turned to stone. Edgar used that fist to erase the question mark. Then, he picked up the chalk and added the missing word.
What might happen if animals could talk again?
Deep in my gut, I felt a shift, a turn of 180 degrees with a near-audible grinding of gears followed by a thundering clunk, as Edgar reset my mindset. Here I was, a White woman of European descent (despite some distance Native blood), an invited guest on Qu’wut’sun land. Here I was, trying to teach Native students English.
Edgar Rice taught me one of the most meaningful lessons of my educational journey. He taught me to think, instead of raising a fist. He taught me how to gently redirect someone whose prejudices or cultural background might handicap them. He taught me the power of privileging my student’s best interests. Edgar taught me to see the needs of others first, by seeing the world through their eyes. Most of all, Edgar Rice taught me about the ache of exclusion and the power of wise, humble and inclusive teaching practices.
Ah siem s-ul’hween, huy ch q’u hw’uw’tsusthamu. Honoured, respected wise one: thank you for teaching me and showing me how.