One Sunflower

cultural competence

on January 28, 2010

Our school district is home to one of Washington’s  tribes and we have a significant population of native students in our building.  We have struggled to serve this population effectively.  Our principal invited a Native American high school student to come to our staff meeting and tell his story. 

His story is one of being teased and taunted by peers and other adults in his life – some at another school that he attended.  It was a hard story to listen to.  Recently he has found a group to belong to and creates rap songs about his experience.  He is seeking to finish his high school education although he might have to do it through other means because of being behind in his credits.

The staff listened and were appreciative of his offerings.  We clapped and then sat in a slightly stunned silence when he left.  There were a few staff who shared some of their feelings and that was the end of our staff meeting. 

The whole thing made me think a lot.  I am a female WASP.  I know I have a lot to learn about being culturally competent in this diverse world we live and work in.  I was one of the first wave of staff to participate in Cultural Competence training with our district 4 years ago and while the training was repeated in subsequent years,  the work has fallen to the wayside.  I appreciate our principal’s efforts to keep it going. 

I think I learned the most about cultural competence or lack there-of from the comments and questions the staff had after the student left.  I tried to capture what I heard and felt in a poem.

I really really really hope it doesn’t offend – it’s just a poem:


He stood before us,

our native son,

a boy invited to speak,

to be a teacher to teachers.

He looked like so many,

but spoke like so few,

so we listened


Glancing occasionally at the spiral notebook

propped on the stool,

he told us his story.

We heard his words about hurtful words.

Words that pierced him like stick and stone,

epithets aimed at his Blood and bone,

words spoken by others of Us.

We listened to this child of ancients

tell his story of wandering,

of loss and being thirsty in the middle of a rain forest,

hatchet close at hand,

a story as old as the hills.

One day this boy sang a song

and someone heard him,

someone listened.

Now this boy chips at words

like stick and stone

building a house of Blood and bone.

He looks for a path to the mountain

beyond the rain forest.

He walks tall

this short man-boy.

Our ears burned,

our hearts felt chafed.

We, too, are thirsty in the middle of a rain forest,

and mistaken about the hatchet.

3 responses to “cultural competence

  1. Trout says:

    This blog entry doesn’t offend me. When I read your poem, it does call me to reflect on how often cultural competence work in our district is not “everyones” work. I hope we will take some time to talk more about this when we meet in person.

    I appreciate your honesty in writing this entry and the open, telling images in the poem of the young man and his presentation.

  2. Nico Demey says:

    Could you tell me the name of the eagle Painting’s artist? Would love to see more paintings from him!
    I love the Native art…

    Thank you!

    • onesunflower says:

      I am sorry I don’t have the artist recorded – I included this on my blog back when I was a newbie to blogging and wasn’t being careful to record where pictures were coming from. Now I only use my art or I record it.

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