Best Intentions (or why do they only hire white ladies to each Indigenous Ed?)

By: Marissa Munoz (University of British Columbia [Theme: Place and Land])

Imagine a class of 34 pre-service school teachers,

undergrads of various stripes, interests, and ages.

you are in the center of the room,

and they are happily "playing along" with a demonstration

of Agosto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed

theatre exercises,

this on is called Flocking

which you have done yourself

more than a few times.  It is all familiar.

You smile along, watching from the center of the room.

This is Indigenous Education, a required course,

one of the last requirements before these eager pre-service teachers

fledge the nest

and find their own classrooms to facilitate. 


You are Indigenous, but an immigrant to this land, to this country far from home.

You came back for the chance to teach

to teach at the big university

to teach a subject close to your heart

because back home, Indigenous Education isn't a thing

they do there.


you created a great syllabus.

Six weeks have flown by and

you have facilitated a lot of learning

called in some favors and personal connections

planned some fieldtrips

invited elders

agonized over hard conversations about racism

led rounds and rounds of check-ins

kept everyone safe.


You've picked just the right articles,

facilitated online discussions,

and given feedback on reflection after reflection after (not so critical) reflection

and patiently explained again to that one student

who tries to convince you every week

Indigenous Knowledge is not real.


This is the second to the last week,

and these are the final projects

and you are almost done, almost done, almost done.


And over to your left, you see it before you hear it

Students are laughing.

One throws an invisible ball to another

then falls on the floor.

And that student does the same movements, only it's not one ball

it's many small balls, like lint

she picks off her clothing and throws them on the next person

before falling to the floor


is she fake dying? 

she's fake dying.


And this is flocking, so others are imitating


And when there are only a few people left

still on their feet

yourself included

You hear it


"Catch! Now you have smallpox"


And it's so funny! What a great activity!


Only it's not.

Genocide is not funny. 





And you can't move

can't talk

can't think

and you are not sure when you stopped breathing.

Stunned, you let the group wrap up their demonstration

Classmates offer appreciations,

just the way you modeled to them.


You stand, and shut it down.


This is how racism happens without any racists in the room.

You ask for a 15 minute break and step out for fresh air


When you come back

They are talking, some are crying

All are shook.

You are wearing your armor

and for the next hour they talk

blaming, pep-talking, working through complicity

you offer care,


and sit with




The course ends. 

You submit your grades

and move home.


The following week you get the call

"Everyone was supposed to have passed."

Even the student who doesn't believe in Indigenous Education?

Even the student who only showed up for 2 of 12 classes?

Even the student who didn't turn in one single assignment?

"What are you going to do to ensure that every student is successful?"

And, like magic, the next week all the grades are pass.


But your teaching evaluations are permanent. Students wrote

"I do not trust her professional judgment."

"Led a dangerous exercise..."

"...Not fit for university teaching"


And, like magic, I've never been invited to teach again.

Because this is how racism happens without any racists in the room.


BIO: Marissa Aki'Nene Muñoz is a Xicana Tejana, tracing her roots to Tlaxcalteca, Coahuilteca, and Wixarika communities of the present-day Texas/Mexico frontera.  Her current research focuses on critical storying, testimonio, and collective memory as the community strategies that have protected rich mesoAmerican intellectual traditions from colonization.  Building upon Indigenous scholarship and frontera-specific methodologies, Marissa’s research moves toward mobilizing Indigenous knowledge of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, in response to the ongoing military occupation, environmental racism, and cultural ethnocide that occurs along the U.S.-Mexico border.