Culture/identity - seeing more than the tip of the iceberg.

In previous blogs i have discussed culture, cultural safety and starting this new adventure. As i outlined in the last blog - the way to create culturally safe spaces is to begin by understanding your own culture and how that impacts the way you view the world and, more importantly, how you view other people. Let me share a little of what I understand about my culture and how i have gotten to that understanding. Hopefully as we do this - we can explore the process of understanding how culture impacts our identity and interactions.

For starters, my identity/culture, like most folks, is complex. I participate in/have evolved in a number of different cultures over the course of my life. Lemme see, i was born Indigenous in Newfoundland, raised Catholic in a military family, joined the military, came out as Queer, have a couple of university degrees, have been a feminist... and much more. So you see, complex doesn't begin to describe it! Each of these different parts of my identity have their own culture, some of them work well together, some of them don't - some are in complete opposition to one another. In some of them the cultural cues are evident, some are not and some cultural scripts are so far under the radar and insidious that it is virtually impossible to see them for what they are. It is all kind of like this iceberg - we are aware of what is on the surface but the majority of it is below - hidden but still having incredible influence on our values, behaviours, attitudes and judgements of people and situations. The other thing many people don't know about icebergs is that they shift and change and present different faces to the surface depending on a bunch of factors. How our culture(s) impact our behaviours/attitudes/identities operate in much the same way.

Sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking that our identities can be 'segmented' or 'partitioned' but we need to remember that we exist fully in all the cultures we are part of at the same time! Nothing is more maddening as an Indigenous person than for someone to ask me what 'part' Indigenous i am! I am not part Indigenous... i am Indigenous, full stop. As for blood quantum - DON'T get me started! The next most maddening question is to be asked which part of my identity is most important to me. The answer to that question is that all the aspects of my identity are equally important to me. None have primacy over the other although one aspect may be more prominent or 'in play' in different situations.

It is unfortunate that the cultural cues that inform our lives and interactions with other humans tend to operate so much on the unconscious level. We begin our cultural education the moment we emerge into the world - think about the pink or blue blankets assigned to us. Some of that education is direct instruction but much of it is indirect/unspoken and that is what can make it so difficult for us to really look at those cues, scripts and messages. We rarely question how or why things have always been done they way they have been done. Many 'garden-variety' Canadians don't think that they have a culture - that culture is something that 'others' have. Culture is viewed as the exotic but it is everything that makes us who we are - whether we are aware of it or not. We all need to understand that culture is

  • what we do, say, think… are

  • our activities, ideas, our belongings

  • our relationships - with others and with all of creation

  • our spirituality/religion

  • how we develop and grow and view ourselves and others

  • the outcome of the influences and principles of our ancestors,

  • our world view, philosophies of life & geographical situation.

When we begin to ask questions about these things, we begin the first steps towards understanding how we move in the world, the assumptions we make about others. When we begin to understand our own culture(s) we begin the first tentative steps towards reducing oppression in the world and creating culturally safe spaces.

I have arrived where i am and am able to do the work that i do because i have asked those questions of myself, my Elders and my community. It isn't easy sometimes to ask the questions, it can actually be terrifying because you are looking at foundational issues. However, i can assure you that the outcome is worth it! One of my Elders said to me many years ago that if we can remember to be like children - unafraid to ask questions - then we will be able to grow more fully into who we are meant to be. So, my challenge to you is to be like a child - ask the questions without fear and be open to new learning about others and YOURSELF!

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