Earlier this week I heard a colleague and friend defend his dissertation. It was amazing. Kaleb researched the meaning of place and learning for Black students and other students of color who traditionally do not have a space of their own (e.g. colonization, gentrification, stolen lands, redlining, push-out effect, etc). When Kaleb and I worked together we were part of a nonprofit rooted in a geographic space. It was cozy and wonderful. COVID disrupted our time together, but I’m grateful we got to spend time together and now I get to learn from a newly minted PhD.
Kaleb and I first met when we were part of a place-based organization. The organization was rooted in a very specific geography to focus on people of color. I enjoyed building deep relationships within this community. Through that work, I also learned how important place matters for policy work. I was reminded of that today when I listened to a presentation on preschool enrollment and saw how having specific preschools in specific neighborhoods really impacted the demographics of the program. Place matters.
If we know place matters, it is also important to know the stories within these places.
Begin to Understand the Stories
Every place has an indigenous/pre-colonized story. That is a great place to start exploring some of the stories of a place. As an example, I researched the original place name for my neighborhood. The original Lushootseed name is qWátSéécH, translated to green-yellow spine – which is very true of the neighborhood. Connecting to the original place name is important to understanding the Native American history, and more specifically the Duwamish stories of this place. Equally important is to ask why aren’t these place name stories more readily told. Whose stories are we burying and silencing and why aren’t they readily shared? We switch from silencing Indigenous stories to understanding and centering Indigenous and POC stories.
Who is telling the story?
Place matters, and the story keepers matter too. We need to treat stories with care, especially linguistic care. Staying true to their original meaning and original creation. Kaleb shared an example of how one of the projects he worked on for his dissertation was with a Deaf youth group. The students Kaleb was working with wanted to understand how to communicate more seamlessly with their Deaf counterparts, recognizing the language and disabilities differences.
We need to ask how these stories can support or exclude people. Taking care in creating ways to include people in the meaning of our stories is important. It is also important to reflect on which stories belong to certain communities and do not need to be shared at the risk of harming a POC community.
As I thought about this post I thought about a few places where we can begin to unearth the stories our places hold. I’m sharing it to help us find our stories and to use them to create wonder and reflection.
- Indigenous place names – research the original place name and pronunciation of your city, town, neighborhood. What is the story behind the name?
- Family stories rooted in important places to your family.
- What are the stories of harm to Black and Indigenous, or other POC communities related to places you belong. As an example, colonization, red lining, etc. What are the stories of liberation, justice, or place making by POCs in your communities?
- What are some of the native plants in your area, what are the POC stories related to some of these natural wonders?
- If you’re in an urban space, what are the migration stories of how people got there? What are the founding stories and how do POCs interact with those stories — do POCs belong or are they written out of the place story?
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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawai’i; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.