In the article The Editor’s Introduction of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology and Human Rights McCarthy (2005) opens the hearts and minds of readers by asking three questions that focus on indigenous epistemologies, anthropology and human rights. Although all three questions the editor opened up the article with are engaging, the one that resonated with me was the first question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?” (McCarthy, 2005). The editors collaborated with other scholars to dig deeper into these questions throughout the article.
The editors assert, “Indigenous languages (like minority languages) are increasingly threatened by the forces of globalization-culture, economic, and political forces that work to standardize and homogenize, even as the stratify and marginalize (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). I felt a deep connection to this part of the article. Both my parents grew up speaking only Spanish in their homes and in their communities. However, when they started elementary school Spanish was not an accepted form of communication. My mom tells the story of how she ran home during recess on the first day of school because they told her, “No Spanish, English only.” She was frightened and knew her language and culture was not embraced in her new school community.
The editors remind us how many languages are spoken only by paternal and grandparental generations. This is true of my family. After my parents experienced difficulties in school due to being second language learners, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit. The article illustrates how language identifies people, “who we are, where we came from, and where we are going; our family, territory and culture” (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). Because the language stopped in my generation, I felt a disconnect with my grandparents and parents in relation to who we are, where we came from and where we are going because we did not speak the same language. As a child, I remember sitting with cousins at family gatherings listening to the adults speak in Spanish and tell stories of their childhood, which brought laughter and tears. I remember one time asking for them to tell me the story in English and they did. However, I didn’t find it funny, they said that it wasn’t the same in English because they couldn’t find the right “English words” to appropriately and fully share the story. McCarthy (2005) explains that shifting toward English represents shifting away from Indigenous (p. 3).
In the article, McCarthy (2005) describes four different attempts to incorporate linguistic and cultural content into elementary and high schools. One scholar discusses the importance of both curricular and structural changes in education. Scholar, Mary Hermes, advocates for “cultural incorporation through immersion teaching in the Native language to both strengthen endangered languages and propel the culture-based curriculum movement far beyond superficially adding fragmented pieces of cultural knowledge onto the existing structure” (McCarthy, 2005, p.3). I believe researching the impact of self-determination is worthwhile and positively contributes to the field of education.
McCarthy, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education–self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, (36)1, 1-7.