Decolonizing Our Minds Will Change the World

Dear Gateway families,

As we begin today, let’s take a moment to give acknowledgement . . . I want to acknowledge the first people who lived upon this land, the very land where we are now. We acknowledge the many tribes that gathered here, the Rumsien, the Amah Mutsun, and those of the Awaswas language group, to name a few. The first people lived with respect upon this land for thousands of years, and many still live here today.

With these words, the annual Third Grade River Day performance, one of Gateway’s best-loved traditions, kicked off in the Lower School Commons. Besides being the very first student performance to ever occur in that space (and how perfect and lovely it is for this purpose!), this statement marked a new way of launching the River Day play, as Julie and Kaia, our Third Grade teachers, recited a land acknowledgement for the Indigenous People who traditionally inhabited this land.

3rd Grade River Day play

If you are wondering what a land acknowledgement is, you are likely not alone. I first learned about land acknowledgements in September, during our faculty training on Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards and Anti-Bias Framework. According to Northwestern.edu, “a Land Acknowledgement is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous Peoples and their traditional territories . . . To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long standing history that has brought you to reside on the land, and to seek to understand your place within that history.

3rd Grade River Day play

As we actively work to make our curriculum and program reflect our school-wide value to courageously promote a just society, the small but important step of making a land acknowledgment during the wonderful place-based, interdisciplinary River Day project reflects a much larger shift in our consciousness as an institution. We must act upon the power we have to make positive change if we are to move towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive civil society, and that work begins within our classrooms. 

Last weekend, I attended a workshop in San Francisco titled “Dismantling White Supremacy Culture in Schools”, along with educators from many public, charter, religious, and independent schools. One of the aspects of white supremacy culture that has been most destructive to a pluralistic and inclusive society is that white culture both defines what is considered normal, and values certain ways of knowing and not others. From worshipping the written word to pushing a belief in absolute objectivity, white culture either subjugates or seeks to assimilate other cultures and perspectives while denying their legitimacy. Consider the flawed metaphor of the United States as a “melting pot” that so many of us learned as children. This concept promotes an image of America that erases the native inhabitants of this land and assimilates immigrants into a dominant culture rooted in an oppressive white patriarchy — not exactly a reflection of the modern country we live in, let alone the image of the future society we hope to see our children inhabit.

What a gift for our students to be able to use performance art and spoken word to connect their own lived experiences with the stories and myths the Indigenous Peoples of the area passed down orally through generations. And what a powerful message for our students, who spent joyous time on the river making art, learning about hydrology, and exploring the lives of the Indigenous People of the area, to have our teachers and families help them recognize that there are many ways of making meaning in the world. 

Warm regards,

Dr. Zachary Roberts
Head of School