Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Connection Is Healing

Prior to the pandemic, every classroom at the Daybreak Star Preschool in Seattle had a grandparent in the room. "We wanted to protect our elders," says Nick Terrones, the director of this school for urban Indigenous families of all tribes and Teacher Tom's Play Summit presenter, "so we asked them to stay home" the past couple years. "But, they'll be back this year," he adds with a smile. 

From the outset, Nick tells us, Daybreak Star has existed to serve families and that, in the tradition of Native cultures, means that elders are at the heart of everything they do. "Before I make any decisions," he says, "I have to consult our elders." He's excited that the kids are going be learning the art of totem pole carving from an elder this year. "There are some things we can only learn from our elders."

"It takes a village to raise a child" is a phrase we know today as an old African proverb, but Nick sees it as central to American Indigenous cultures as well. "We rely on the power of community . . . It makes us slow down to listen." He calls it a re-Indigenizing practice.

This is important to Nick's work. "We talk a lot about decolonizing, but you can't decolonize unless you also re-Indigenize." It's about honoring and respecting Native family history, he explains, learning not about culture, but rather learning through it. Nick sees it as a "call to ancestral spirits."

"People come to Daybreak for a sense of healing." Like many Native children, Nick grew up without much connection to his own heritage which is one of the historical facts that unites all tribes. Central to Daybreak's mission is this healing from the collective trauma that resulted from colonization which involved the intentional destruction of Native culture, history, and language. As Nick says, "The Spanish did their job!" But by reconnecting with the strength of ancestors, their knowledge, and their teachings, this healing becomes a joyful process, one that emerges from community.

To re-Indigenize is to reconnect with not just culture, but also to to the land, to nature. "We see ourselves in relation to everything," says Nick. Even the animals and plants are viewed as relatives. This is ancestral wisdom that means that nothing in nature is ours to exploit. "We only take what we need . . . We don't live on the land. We live with the land."

It always comes back to connection. 

What do we lose when our elders are no longer central to our lives? What do we lose when we are no longer connected to our ancestors, our stories, our language, our culture, and the collective wisdom of the people who came before us? Right now, as we experience extreme heat, unprecedented flooding, and raging fires around the world, we are suffering from our disconnection with nature. 

Disconnection is trauma. Connection is healing. It's easy to look around in despair for our world, but I take heart from the conscious re-connection, the re-Indigenization, happening at places like Daybreak Star, here healing is a joyful process.


To watch my full interview with Nick, please join us August 13-17 for the free Teacher Tom's Play Summit. Click here to get your free pass and learn more about all 20 of our incredible sessions with early childhood experts and thought-leaders from around the world. You will be inspired, informed, and challenged. Professional development certificates are available and you can upgrade to unlimited access. Please share this far and wide. It's only though connection and relationship that we can ever understand our world.

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