The Native American “giving economy” was based on sustainability for their whole ecosystem. We are learning that our campus ecosystem is just as much a curriculum as any textbook.
Dr. Grauer's Column - Thanksgiving
Dr. Grauer would like to wish everyone "Happy Thanksgiving" in his third installment of columns honoring Native American month and The Grauer School’s appreciation of the wisdom of the first people of this area.
i. Our Campus in the World
De Portola, appointed governor of Baja, led the first expedition up the California coast. He started north of Loreto, down in Baja, Mexico, in 1769, nowadays a way station for The Grauer School's surf trips. He crossed the Tijuana River and marched northwest to San Diego and what were the native Kumeyaay lands (from the border, up to around Oceanside), then headed north. Scouts and engineers went ahead to prepare the road and deal with what they believed would be hostile natives.
The Portola expedition, including Father Junipero Serra, probably travelled with a wagon containing sacks of wild mustard seeds. These seeds were spread behind them as they travelled north in the winter, marking a golden trail for their return in the spring by a blooming yellow pathway: El Camino Real. The Royal Road. Along this trail, just north of the San Diego Mission, now lies The Grauer School.
Within a few years, the missionaries at San Juan Capistrano, established by Serra in the auspicious year of 1776, were reporting that the beautiful mustard was so invasive it made large tracts of lands useless, a legacy of fickle beauty. Mustard seeds can still be found in the adobe bricks of the missions.
On the missions, Serra expected the natives to convert (which included abandoning their language and customs) or face corporal punishment. Natives who fled the missions were punished by severe floggings when caught. Later on, all over our country and Canada, Indian children were stolen and forced into boarding schools far from their families. Any remaining Indian communities have long been moved inland.
From our perch on the royal road, El Camino Real, our bell tower today houses an exact replica Baja Mission bell that I have mixed feelings about, but I got a good deal on it and like the patina.
Our region has scarce water. Kids don’t seem to notice, but our foliage does. Once, when we were worried about water use, we almost swapped out the soil and grass for artificial, plastic turf (sometimes called Astroturf). We thought about a field like that heating up and melting, as happened in Los Angeles—we watched it on TV. We also thought about our quail and rabbits that clean things up in the way they do, creating the more ecologically sustainable campus we are going for. For their part, quail could neither take nor give from artificial grass, but almost every time I get to work early or stay late I see how they love grazing the cool grass. And we thought about the water retention systems we have that ensure that we have no run-off. For all those thoughts, and for the thought that water run-off from our school is going to flood into the San Elijo Lagoon and straight out to Cardiff Reef surf break, where you can find me most mornings on a longboard, we scrapped that plan and decided not to install artificial grass.
Now we are studying recycled water for irrigating the campus greenery and our sports field more sustainably and not waste precious water.
The Native American “giving economy” was not based solely on human consumption, but on sustainability for the whole ecosystem. As we develop our campus, we think more about sustainability, though a balance as pristine as untouched nature provides seems impossible. The campus features crows and robins which have a fair time with our fallen peaches, as do other critters that our students are growing up with on campus. I admit, we have set traps for the rats which invade our student orchards and gardens and multiply for it. And it seems like there are too many crows these days, though they don’t seem to be of much harm. We have owl boxes I hope will fill up soon, especially since they’d displace some crows and manage the rodents. (If you know how to attract owls, let me know.)
The monarch butterfly, with its orange wings laced with black lines adds delicate beauty to our campus. This species is severely endangered right now. We created a monarch “way station” because, if we don’t create a home for the monarchs, who will? So that needed doing. We grow native milkweed for them, and they (like bees) give us pollination. They give back to us in beauty. And we have chicken coops and vegetables, and a new native plants corridor along our driveway, which is not always easy to establish in our semi-arid environment. We are learning that our campus is just as much a curriculum as any textbook.
Q: What if a campus ignores its own ecosystems while its students read about ecology and life science in textbooks?
A: Our students ought best to study from nature, in nature, and not just about nature. Then it is personal to them.
ii. How to Give Thanks
The most natural outcome I know of naturalist studies and a sustainable ecosystem on campus is gratitude. Gratitude and reciprocity are outcomes of the giving economy, core values at The Grauer School, and there can be no other point of our Thanksgiving season. Every year at Thanksgiving holiday time, we make a special ceremony for school grandparents and elders.
This US holiday is met with mixed reactions by Native Americans. Four hundred years ago, the Wampanoag shared their land, food, and knowledge of the environment with the English. Without help from the Wampanoag, the English would not have had the successful harvest that led to the first Thanksgiving. The settlers did not end up giving Native Americans much thanks in return, any more than Father Serra 100 years later “gave back” to the Indians he put on the missions. What followed that first Thanksgiving was devastating for the Native peoples and a horrific blight on the United States as a people and a nation.
On our little campus, we have a chance to try to make our traditions and land use more healing, and also to credit our land’s original people with Thanksgiving, the best, historical example of the giving economy we have—or at least the first one was. As a school, we can commit to healing practices in honoring what Native Americans gave us as shepherds of our campus over 400 years ago.
Native ways have shown us the beauty that no one owns, like our school native habitat corridor, perpetually preserved. We are grateful to the Kumeyaay who sustained the coastal sage, maritime chaparral and coastal wetlands of our area, and we seek their guidance in our guardianship however mixed all of our feelings are about this land.
We must continue to ask them if they approve of our ways and for any counsel they are willing to share, as well as how we might be of service to them, so long as they are receptive to this asking. As this story is being sent out, some of us, students and teachers, are studying at the Maat Hetemii garden, at the nearby Santa Ysabel Indian Nation. We are not even halfway to the real giving economy we believe the Kumeyaay once had, but the vision is a lure and we want to learn what we can.
The ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), indigenous to our nation’s east coast, taught that we have to think of seven generations if we are to understand how to honor our past benefactors and to take better care of our future, and this vision is embraced in every Native American community I have ever visited. When we think of education as giving going in all directions, rather than a thing someone sells and someone else buys, or as a transaction we make, or as a way for warehousing kids and books for the time being, we are drawn back to our founding purposes and relationships now spanning two and soon to be three generations of The Grauer School: connection is our curriculum. So maybe our school is two-sevenths on our way. As a school, we take responsibility when we find ways to honor the healing and restoration of native ways. We are overwhelmed at the tragedy our Indian relations bore, a shame we must all bear even at the Thanksgiving table. If we are going to have a school on this land we “own,” it will have to be as self-sustaining, inclusive, and healing as we can make it.
Thanksgiving is our restorative time. We do not need to wait five more generations for healing. If we are going to be trustees or leaders of our school, we will need to preserve and honor our land and those who came before us. Our “grandfriends” come on campus every year at this time. We welcome you, elders. Come through our Tolerance Gateway. Go out to the school quad. Take a slow walk. Get a sense of our ground. The sky. The four directions. Maybe taste a little bit of soil. Enjoy your meal with love and contemplation. Enjoy.
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