My whole trip began because of my interest in attending IDEC. The conference was held in Nelson, New Zealand. It was run by local families who are working to provide educational alternatives for their kids. This year, it was also co-created with the local Māori Pā, and many indigenous people were invited to share, including people from The Hopi Nation in Arizona, Nepal, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, etc. Young people were encouraged to participate in the conference, as well, and performed traditional songs, played music, and danced. Calvin, my 11 year old son, immediately made some friends and ran around for the duration of the weekend in the beautiful Founders Park, meeting me only for meals.
The indigenous influence became apparent immediately and truly set the tone for the conference, as well as shaped much of its content. We were welcomed into the marae, an elaborately carved community building, with a traditional Māori ceremony. Māori was always spoken first before translating into English, and the ceremony felt like being announced and welcomed into a deep cultural tradition. The elder announcing us stood facing the marae and began singing in Māori to an elder man who stood at the entrance. They sang back and forth to each other as we entered, women first, and sat facing a large group who were already present. Eventually, each side lined up and we performed a greeting to each and every person. It was much like a wedding line- except you press your nose and forehead to the other person’s and say Kia Ora. This greeting is called Hongi.
The first speaker was Dr. Rose Pere, an internationally recognized spiritual woman. She speaks with such strength and power. She told wonderful stories and explained some of the Māori words, songs, etc. She would repeat over and over that we are sacred beings having a physical experience- that there is only one of us and we must believe in ourselves. She spoke about her experience in schools and how she had to buck the system to make it work. She talked about children being pure, open channels and how we learn from them- that they teach us, and that we should be there to support them in finding their special gifts.
I attended a workshop, where an older man and a young girl spoke for the people of the Hopi Nation. They talked about a program they were running to take teenagers on the "trails of their ancestors" in the southwest of the US, to get them interested in learning the language and keeping up the cultural traditions. The young girl discussed her personal experience with the program. He talked about how the parents begged him to speak Hopi to the children, but the teens who attended were not so interested at first. It wasn’t until they began talking to each other and discovering their family connections that they felt the desire to learn more about the traditions and the language. So much has been lost and the urgency to keep what's left is difficult to find. The Máori in the audience asked how many spoke the language and they did not even know. This project is an attempt to keep the culture alive and pass down the language and traditions to the next generation, so they are not lost.
Rangimarie Parata Takarua, the second keynote speaker, took action in her community in Christchurch, NZ. She and some other families started a small school 20 years ago for young children.They have been growing over the years and, just this year, celebrated getting a building and permission to be a public school. They speak Māori all day and generally have a holistic, life learning approach. She called it a 21st century learning village for the whole whanau, their word for community or family. She spoke about how they are trying to keep their vision while dealing with bureaucratic constraints. What she is doing and Yaacov (who started ziDEC in Israel 20 years ago) is doing are symbiotic. They are working to create a life-long education in their respective communities that includes all generations- breaking down the walls we have created around age and accessibility.
What Dr. Rose Pere said about children is what I believe our relationship to children should be. And I found myself connecting with many of the things the other speakers shared. But I also became uncomfortably aware that their perspectives were steeped in deep, cultural traditions that I do not have. What is special about having these rich cultural traditions- language, songs, ceremonies- that speak to you and ground you in a powerful community? And what does it mean to not have that? I enjoyed and was moved by the sharing of cultural information, but was left with even more questions about how to move in that space. Am I able to merely be an ally to those who are taking back their power from years of attempts to erase it? What are my roots as an Irish, British, eastern-European, Catholic, Jew? As much a mutt as many Americans, I often feel I have little tradition to connect with. As if we were cut off, too, from ceremony and language that inculcates us into a history, a community- an intimacy that sometimes seems to be missing from the whole of modern day culture. Can we learn from them without taking over and watering down what they bring to the table? While I haven’t yet been able to answer this question, I feel that the best thing I can do towards this end is continue to share and value others sharing. Throughout the conference, I was most struck by the diversity of people, faces, languages, customs, stories. And I kept coming back to how important that is in nature- diversity keeps us healthy in our plant systems, food systems, and people systems!