We are sisters who support the online Toward Right Relationship (TRR) workshop, Roots of Injustice, Seeds of Change, as tech team members and workshop facilitators.
We start with Sandra’s story:
My alertness to Native American peoples skyrocketed when I moved to Colorado in 1998. Previously, I had learned about Indians in the history of settlement, but knew no living Native people, nor little about contemporary Native history and politics. I met this work in 2018 through singers in my women’s chorus who work with a local group, Right Relationship Boulder (RRB), that seeks to build right relationship with the Hinono’ei (Arapaho) and other peoples driven from the Boulder Valley by treaty violations.
After completing facilitator training, I led a face-to-face workshop for my Danish-American community, a circle of family and friends who meet each summer at Danebod Folk School in southwest Minnesota. Folk schools are based on the ideas of Danish Lutheran pastor N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783-1872) about lifelong learning: everyone teaches what they know, and everyone learns in multi-generational community. Grundtvig taught that heaven is here on earth, in the natural world and in fellowship with others when we work, learn, and talk together. We experience the divine when we practice everyday joy and gratitude. Each summer at camp we refresh these values and revisit our role as a force for good in the world.
Running the workshop at folk camp was powerful for me– to articulate how this education benefited our community, to study the script with the readers, and to do the surprisingly deep research I needed to write the opening land acknowledgment. It was also a family affair: my sister Annette read the role of the Historian, my mom found blankets for the experiential exercise, my teenage nephew ran the music, and my dad and niece attended the workshop. I could see the impact on our community’s conversations the rest of camp week.
Now Annette picks up the thread:
When I moved to central Maine, the Wabanaki, Penobscot, Abenaki / Abénaquis nations became a more tangible part of my world. I paddled with friends in a war canoe built by Penobscots on the nearby island reservation and unfortunately struck a rock in the rapids, damaging this cultural icon. Upon moving to southern Massachusetts and visiting Plimoth Plantation, my eyes opened further to the greater truths of the Thanksgiving holiday and the limited history taught to school children and celebrated by families. When I rehearsed my workshop role as the historian, I was moved to act, to teach others, to share. I picked up Walter R. Echo-Hawk’s book, The Sea of Grass: A Family Tale from the American Heartland. I realized that I was connected to those immigrants who displaced the Pawnee, the Chippewa, the Ottawa, the Potawatomi on the prairies. The story of my great-grandfather coming from Denmark and buying farmland in Cass County, IA, had another side.
Together, we experience our folk school community as connected by shared cultural traditions, curiosity and pride about our immigrant family histories, and values that emphasize learning and equity. Working with TRR helped us recognize that our immigrant stories are also White colonial narratives. Our ancestors came to the US to escape war and famine, eager for political freedom and for land to raise families and make a better life. But in claiming prairie homesteads and establishing towns, they participated directly in removing Native people from their own homelands. We ourselves did not take these actions, but we do benefit from the wealth and privilege they generated–so it is our responsibility now to acknowledge and share that history. In working toward right relationship, we also celebrate the intersecting dimensions of identity and seek to enable everyone who takes part to be their entire, beautiful selves.
These experiences led us to volunteer with TRR. What began as Sandra’s casual offer of tech help became a continuing role as tech team co-coordinator, and a fun sister project as Annette brought her digital facilitation skills to the team. What began as a temporary scheme to meet pre-pandemic workshop commitments became a compelling project in its own right, one that increases accessibility, spans geography, and reduces our carbon footprint. And what began as a sense of loss about our inability to safely offer the face-to-face workshop became excitement, as we crafted the online workshop into a profound learning experience of its own.
As educators we know the power of connecting head and heart in learning. We are grateful to be part of this work on behalf of understanding, justice, and right relationship among peoples.
Sandra Laursen (she/her) is an education and equity researcher who lives in Boulder, CO, home of the Hinóno’éí (Arapaho) and Cheyenne nations. She wrote about folk school here.
Annette Brickley (she/her) is an education and outreach consultant who lives in Mattapoisett, MA, home of the Wôpanâak (Wampanoag) and Massa-adchu-es-et (Massachusett) nations.