Reflections from the Ah­nish­i­nah­bæójib­way (We, the People)

Lorraine Kingsley's English paper

                                                                                    Lorraine Kingsley
                                                                                    English 121
                                                                                    November 3, 1986


discipline, n., v., -n. training, especially of the mind or character.  2. the training effect of experience, misfortune, etc.  3. trained condition of order and experience.  4. order among school pupils, soldiers, or members of any group.  5. a particular system of rules for conduct.  6. methods or rules for regulating the conduct of members of a church.  7. control exercised over members of a church.  8. punishment; chastisement.  9. branch of instruction or education.  –v. train; bring to a condition of order and obedience; bring under control.  2. punish; discipline a child for bad behavior.  [ < L discipline < disipulus.  See DISCIPLE.]

punish, v. 1. cause pain, loss, or discomfort for some fault or offense; The government punishes criminals.  2. cause pain, loss, or discomfort for … The law punishes crimes.  3. Informal.  severe or rough treatment.

The dictionary definition of “discipline” encompasses both the means and the ends of attaining the conformity of an individual to ‘any group.’  The dictionary implies that this ‘training’ is in accord with the authority represented by the military, the “church” (i.e., an hierarchical organization of feudal political authority), or by the schools (the definition of “school” also implies enforced conformity).  The dictionary, in defining “discipline,” also infers that this “training” is not pleasant, specifically the “training effect of … misfortune, etc.” and “punishment, chastisement.”  The root of the word is “disciple,” which in essence means a follower, in blind faith, of a “leader.”

The American English language reflects European values, European feudal social hierarchy, the European intellectual inheritance of “blind faith” in “revealed truth” and “authority,” and a belief that “learning” can be equated with “punishment.”  Perhaps this is one reason that “English” is such a difficult language for Ojibway people.  The philosophical and social concepts embedded in the English language are alien to us.

“Discipline” assumes a particular culture’s attitude toward different types of behavior in any culture, some behaviors are rewarded, others are disciplined.  In the White society attitudes depend on a person’s position in the hierarchy.  White people learn attitudes to “keep people in their place.”  By condescending attitudes toward people they see as their “social inferiors,” person of lower social rank are disciplined, and the status quo is preserved.

The basic meaning of “discipline” is to enforce conformity with the group, either through the individual’s blind faith acceptance of “revealed truth” (as presented by those in “authority”), or through “misfortune” or “punishment.”

Within the dominant society, there are many kinds of discipline.  Infants are “disciplined” by letting them cry themselves into exhaustion.  Children are “disciplined” by physical beatings – “spanking.”  Those unable, unwilling, or the wrong color to “work” are “disciplined” by being deprived of the basic necessities of life.  The White man’s “discipline” also includes separating individuals from their families and confining them in small spaces surrounded by iron bars for long periods of time.  It includes “discipline” by murdering persons on the authority of the military, the church, or the state (i.e., capital punishment).

Some of the dominant society’s police administer corporal punishment as a means of discipline, either to frighten, or based on the old White philosophy of “if I beat you enough, you will love me.”  This is outdated thinking, but it is still there.  This corporal punishment (“discipline”) is usually administered to persons on a lower level of the social hierarchy.  The White man has very strange ways of thinking.

Among Anishinabe people, “discipline” has a different meaning.  The foundation of Ojibway conformity to group norms is based not on “blind faith” and physical coercion, but on each person’s understanding for the reasons for Indian values, and on each person’s desire to remain a respected member of the group.

There are number of kinds of Ojibway “discipline.”

1. Education and persuasion.  Our “legends” are filled not only with our history, but also with teachings in human and social nature.  Children who have listened to our legends since infancy learn the groundwork for living in compassionate, sharing and loving ways.  The lessons of these legends are based on understanding, rather than on blind faith acceptance of prescribed “truths.”

Indian values and behavior were taught in the home, by loving relatives.  Our way conflicts with the White ways: the authoritarian, hierarchical discipline of the schools, the violence on television, etc.  Many traditional Indian people feel that it is inappropriate to send a child to school at the age of three; who would like to keep their children at home until they are ready, at least until the age of six.  Many Indian people would like to let their children be themselves, “a little kid,” until they are ready to go to school.  It is unnecessary for a young child to have to “grow up” too quickly, to have to face the White man’s discipline “too soon.”  Most Indian parents don’t want a genius, just a normal, happy child.  If a child is pressured, and he doesn’t live up to expectations, he’s a good candidate for self-destruction.  Children should be allowed to be who they are, to experiment, and to be guided with loving understanding.  But, the dominant society wants to discipline/punish them if they do not meet the White man’s expectations.  (Under the International Convention, Article II, Section (e), “Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” is genocide.  Compulsory education in White schools is genocide.  The “Catch-22” is the truancy law, under which Indian parents are “disciplined” for resisting genocide, by fines and imprisonment.)

2. Scaring.  All children have much to learn.  Sometimes, children do things which are dangerous either to themselves or to others.  Children are sometimes sacred into behaving.  For example, two summers ago, two young boys insisted on playing by the lake, in spite of warnings that there was a wounded bear in the woods nearby.  The boys claimed, “we’re tough enough to handle a bear!”  An adult dressed up like a bear, and scared the boys.  This was a lesson that the boys understood, and did not forget.  They learned to respect the bear, and were not seen by the lake any more.

3. Teasing and ridicule.  One of the foundations of Ojibway discipline is that our people want to belong to our society, and want to be admired by others.  When a person behaves in socially unacceptable ways, this kind of discipline begins with casual mention of another person, either legendary or historical, who has behaved in a similar way, and a description of the consequences.  The “disciplined” person will frequently see themselves in the story, and learn.  If their behavior continues, an elder will then comment in their presence about their behavior to a third person.  If the disciplined person still does not see themselves, then that person will be teased and ridiculed for their behavior.  In a close-knit society, this is a very effective form of discipline.  It also gives a person a chance to learn without being shamed.

4. Shunning.  If a person has done something extremely harmful, for example endangering another person, one very severe form of discipline is not speaking to the person who is being disciplined.  Even a few minutes of this discipline is remembered for a lifetime in our society where human relationships are more valuable than gold.

These are the major forms of discipline which are used by our people.  When our society was intact, we did not need to beat our children.  We did not need jails and prisons.  We did not need any “force” in our discipline.  We also had no “crime problem.”

There are many lies which have been told about Indian people by the Whites who occupy our land.  These lies include fantasies of torture, cruelty, and inhumanity – fantasies which ma have been true of the White people who told them, but which were certainly not true of Ojibway people!

The White people have tried to use their forms of “discipline” on us: we have been beaten, starved, and imprisoned.  Our children have been forcibly taken from us, and placed in institutions which are very much like your prisons.  Even in the schools which our children are now forced to attend, the White teachers and administrators have no understanding of our culture and traditions, and use “discipline” on our children which is cruel punishment by Ojibway standards.

At the same time, the institutions which the Whites have forced upon us are, at least in some cases, explicitly designed to destroy the strength of our own forms of social control.

The word “discipline” can be a very political words, embodying the conflict between Ojibway society, where social control – “discipline” – is based on each individual’s understanding and caring; and White society, where “discipline” is enforced by “higher” authority in a feudal social structure, and social control is based on blind faith, “learning … from misfortune,” and brute force.  Ojibway people have tried, not entirely by our own choice, to do things in the White way for nearly a century.  It hasn’t worked.

The White society does have good things to offer us.  But, we must be allowed to make our own choices, to take that which is good into our own culture, and be free to leave the rest.  We do not want to “assimilate,” to follow the same path into annihilation, that the white man seems to have chosen.

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