Over the last 3 years at University of Toronto a few people have shared that they “write better” than me. Of course my ego answers in these situations and it is the same thought process every time. I ask in my head. 1) Did thousands of people read your writing? 2) Did anyone cry when they read your writing? 3) Are you even going to remember what you wrote a year from now? I know this response is flawed. I understand that I have to learn humility but for the time being I have an ego. I am oversensitive and my feelings are easily hurt when someone speaks negatively about my academic writing.
I am limited in certain academic capacities. I have a learning disability. I’m not good at regurgitating information in print. It takes me twice as long to read most texts and three times as long to explicate and put what “I have learned” in my own words. This makes me feel inferior to other students.
I only thrive in classes where I am required to think for myself. I get my A’s and B’s in Bioethics and Aboriginal Studies. In Bioethics it is common to take the philosophy of a scholar, evaluate it, then develop a treatment plan from that platform. Moral consideration is completely reflective even if it is through the gaze of another philosopher. Medicine demands individual creativity. “There is art to medicine as well as science” (The Hippocratic Oath) Reflection is also mandatory in Aboriginal Studies. It is an art that is expressed in many forms, storytelling, poetry, filmmaking, theatre and the list goes on.
I am currently enrolled in a creative writing class that is taught by a famous First Nations author. She is also an Elder. I could not ask for a better professor. There is never any spacing out during her lectures. I hang on every word she says. Often things are so culturally and personally relevant that I have to fight back the tears. I am sure I speak for other First Nations students as well. There are so few of us attending U of T that we all know one another’s story. In most cases we were separated from our culture through foster care or adoption and denied “The Ocean of love that we were meant to inherit.” Culturally this places a responsibility on our shoulders. We must learn so that we may serve.
Ancestrally I come from a long line of interpreters. Eight generations of interpretation and thousands of years of oral tradition reside in my cellular biology. As a First Nations writer I’ve been advised to find my “sweetest voice.” My sweetest voice is illusive and until now I have only searched for my truest voice. I suspect there will be a long journey between the two. I must start from the truth and arrive at the sweet while learning a sacred tradition. Simply put, I am a storyteller who must to learn how to write.
I have always written in a specific way. Since grade school I have resisted learning empirically. I thought this subtle resistance was my learning disability. I was relieved when I read an essay my professor wrote about the limited value of the “Empirical Essay.” That it follows a “master and slave” format and it devalues other types of learning/writing outside of empirical academia. Furthermore it has limited value for the writer of the essay because creativity is often restricted. The essay about the “Empirical Essay” gave value to everything I have written.
Last year I took a chance writing an essay, felt confident handing it in only to receive a C-. My assignment was to first discuss the rising rate of HIV in First Nations females due to IV drug use and second develop a plan to treat new cases of HIV. We were to use Statistics Canada our textbook and other sources of our choice for research.
In my truest voice I decided to write about my own story as a First Nations woman who was previously an IV drug user. I opened my essay by stating that the Canadian Government has spoken for us for centuries and 90% of the time the Canadian Government does not speak for us at all. I argued that my experience navigating through the Canadian healthcare system as a First Nations woman would be a better source of information than Statistics Canada. I wrote about how I managed to reach certain resources and these resources kept me from contracting HIV. In the second part of the essay I developed a plan to combine allopathic medicine and traditional healing to treat those with HIV. Because this traditional healing would take place in First Nations communities it would encourage unity and increase awareness about the prevention of HIV. Sounds like a decent paper. Right? Not according to that professor.
My essay was discarded “not enough reference to course material.” I got a C-. I followed the instructions and I used my personal experience to suggest what would work for me as a First Nations woman. I believed that my experience and my opinion would be viewed as valuable but it wasn’t. I followed the standard form of “The Essay” and I referenced the assigned resources in my truest voice. Still, the master was not pleased and as a slave I received a poor grade.
Poor grade aside, my essay is valuable. It helped me find my voice. Also I was able to identify weaknesses in the Canadian Healthcare system. Hopefully there is a way to legitimize healthcare in the eyes of First Nations people. My poor grade is irrelevant. I don’t care if others categorically “write better” than me. I did not give up my voice as a First Nations woman nor did I forsake the tradition of my ancestors in the quest for good a grade.
I will continue my academic process. (No need to mess with my B- average. LOL.) I’ll continue to do my best with the regurgitation. When I say, “do my best” I mean I will work with what I have. There is no need to perfect a practice that is contrary to what I am truly meant to learn. My sweetest voice will not be found in APA form… and I refuse to trap her in the Empirical Essay.
Love and gratitude,
Any good thing you say to me shall not be forgotten. I shall carry it as near to my heart as my children, and it shall be as often on my tongue as the name of the Great Spirit. ~Chief Ten Bears