People don’t look at each other enough, and don’t make enough effort to understand diversity,m which would help them to accept that there are multiple and many ways to live and be in this world. Understanding other peoples and cultures can be the most uplifting and enlightening of experiences, but it can also be uncomfortable and awkward, because your assumptions about how the world works and how to act in the world can be challenged and shaken by another person’s diverse reality. When your worldview is challenged, it can undo everything that has held you together. This is what I call the journey of mirror-seeking, whereby difficult experiences, help you learn to understand another, acting as a mirror that reflects back a deeper learning and understanding of yourself.
This fascination to understand and know myself, has become a big part of my work to now understand and know others. I recently returned from a trip, spending time with educationalists and indigenous people in British Colombia, Canada, a context where its indigenous diversity is quite remarkable. Canada has over 600 recognised First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples spread across its country, providing an extraordinary richness in different worldviews, languages and understandings of how to be and exist with the world. These multiple unique and distinct cultures evolved from a vast geographical diverse environment of extremely high mountainous areas of isolation, to long rolling plains of openness and exposed landscapes, where people formed intimate relationships and cohesion with the distinct features of their natural environment.
My experience of the Canadian trip was one of great positivity meeting many good people working towards righting the wrongs of their past. There is huge amounts of optimism and energy out there for the future. The Canadian experience somewhat parallels New Zealand in that we both have a brutal history of colonial persecution against its indigenous people, which currently plays out in all the predictable negative stats of health, education and income inequalities, horrendous suicide rates and over representation in the judicial criminal system. Unfortunately, these stats are maintained and perpetuated through the simple act of ignoring. Ignoring is a form of un-seeing.
Oppression, colonialism and dominance are the opposite to mirror-seeking, they are mirror-deflecting behaviors that belong to people who refuse to acknowledge the existence of others realities. And to this day, there is still a refusal to acknowledge indigenous people and the beauty and splendor of their diverse cultures, and unfortunately a refusal to acknowledge the poverty and despair that has resulted in the forced disconnection from their culture and language. Consisting of some of the most marginalized groups in the world, Indigenous people are still glanced over, are still not looked at, and are still unseen. To see them and to address the ugliness of the situation means to address the ugliness of the culture that caused it – an extremely uncomfortable mirror very few people would want to look at. Oppressive colonialism and dominance are ugly and who would want to look for and hold up mirrors that return such hideous reflections?
This is why indigenous people continue to remain unseen.