New Song – I am the Other’s Other


I just finished writing this song, and I wanted to get it out there and share it with all of you without having to do a lot of fancy production. So here it is – just voice and mandolin at home in the studio.

I wrote this song as a final project for one of my UBC courses, which dealt with issues of policy and social justice in the educational system. We spent many hours discussing Aboriginal education in BC, and the extent to which policy is helpful to teachers. Often these documents seems so disconnected from the issues facing those working in the field, and this song has helped me to bridge this gap:

Step back and consider
Your role in this place
Where did you learn it?
Were your eyes trained to see?
Your awareness was built there
By your family tree

Were you always this selfless?
Though selfless you seem
Is that part consistent?
Or is it what you became?
He sees all the pieces
Now set them in frame

I am the Other’s “Other”
But am I free to just be me?

Step into this story
Cast off from your fears
Although they defend you
They wall off your mind
The folder is open
Take courage, declare

I am the Other’s “Other”
But am I free to just be me?

Fly out, see past your disguise
Your spirit is tied to your eyes

Give them tools for their choices
So that choice may be free
When they walk out your door
Their hope they foresee
When they walk out your door
Their hope they do see

A change in our ideology around Aboriginal issues in BC, and change for the people, where equal opportunities are given to everyone, is only one part in a cycle, and it is somewhat dependent on a similar change in policy. Public opinion and policy are very interdependent, and each affects the other. However, it is often the case that policy changes at a much slower rate than public opinion, since few people tend to do anything until something becomes a really big issue. As well, changing the opinions of voting adults is no easy task, and often the only way to really make a change is by influencing elementary students, instilling a new ideology in them; when they grow older, they will be able to make a difference from a place of real ideological stability.

Conversely, it is nearly impossible to teach a new ideology if the resources available to teachers are out of date, and do not yet reflect the new re-written history and trends in academic literature. For example, it often takes years for the ideas about history to filter down to elementary history textbooks, and these long-out-of-date textbooks remain in use well after conventional knowledge of a subject has progressed. This is why it takes decades for deeply ingrained systemic issues to be solved, even if scholars have already created a dialogue of change. Real, lasting change requires a re-education of the population, and this needs to be done from the ground upwards. As teachers, we are the ones who really hold in our hands the responsibility to anticipate what will be important in 20 years, and try to teach children accordingly, while doing our best to keep resources current with academia.

This song works with the topic of positionality, and takes into consideration my own background, including the foundation my parents gave to me culturally, socially, and academically. One of the main things taught to me by my parents, which is counter to my own personality, is an increased ability to be selfless – this was explicitly taught to me by my parents, and it has increased with maturity. The idea of the “other’s other” references the fact that, from the point of view of a minority group (non white, etc.), I am the other – not them, and the song asks the question: to what extent does being an “other” restrict freedom?

For a non-aboriginal person to bring content into the classroom, it often requires being able to walk a very thin line in order to appease Aboriginal groups. When dealing with issues that are so close to home, it can be tricky, and sometimes legally confusing, to teach something that shows respect for the land and people, and avoid doing things in a way that does not show respect. As an outsider, there are sometimes a lot of seemingly minute details to consider, which may be very important to the Aboriginal group, but which may seem trivial to the teacher. An example of this may be giving a gift to an Elder who is invited to come and speak to a class; many teachers may not be aware that this is important.

Rather than taking the risk of doing things that cause disrespect, teachers choose instead the position of the “perfect stranger”, as defined by Susan Dion in “Disrupting Molded Images: Identities, responsibilities and relationships—teachers and indigenous subject material”, and simply avoid the issue completely. There is not really enough support in the system, or from the administration, to encourage teachers to be bold and walk this line with confidence. If they fall off either side, they will be penalized or criticized, so why take the risk? If there was a stronger culture of safety around taking these sorts of risks, it would be easier for teachers to try out new, more experimental types of curriculum, including curriculum about Aboriginal culture in BC.

Working through where I came from, what I am learning in my coursework, and what I want to bring to my students in the future is valuable; I am now aware of what I know and what I do not know. I now have a much clearer idea of how to go about making a change in the thinking of my students, so that when they graduate, they do not have that same fear, and no longer see themselves as a “perfect stranger” to Aboriginal peoples. I want them to have confidence when they address these issues, and not shy away learning about difficult parts of our history. It is our responsibility as teachers to equip students with the tools to make choices and create their own freedom.