Jackie Thomas Swanson

Lesson 2: Who Am I?

Jackie Thomas talks about a person’s self-identity, how a person defines and sees themselves. At one time, in traditional Native culture, a person defined themselves through their tribe, the group they belonged to. They lived their lives and saw the world through the belief that they as an individual were defined by their membership in the group.

An example of this powerful community self-image is from a statement about the S’Klallam people of western Washington.  An elder from a neighboring tribe explained “A long time ago, here is how the S’Klallam people were. Say someone one time fell down in the middle of the village and started to shake and cry for no apparent reason. The people would gather around this person and they would all fall to the ground and start shaking and crying until that person felt he could return”.

The above is a powerful example of community connection and healing. The people were in essence saying we will be with you until you are healed. Compare this behavior to how we are today where, for example, a person has a drug or alcohol addiction. Today we send that person off alone to get treatment or therapy. We say to them that they must change, they must transform their lives on their own and when they return, we will still be the same. We won’t change, but you must.

Still the individual must know who they are and how that allows them to fit into the group. The work of defining oneself is not easy and calls for an honest assessment of one’s beliefs and values, family and social relationships, and one’s feelings about their

lives and relationships.

Read the following story and answer the questions that follow.


Blue Jay and Bear

A Chehalis Story

A long time ago….

Blue Jay was standing on the river bank watching all the animals work. Because he is a trickster, Blue Jay does not like to work himself, but he loves to watch other animals work.

He saw an animal he had never seen before. He saw Fishing Duck. Fishing Duck is the kind of duck that sits on water and flaps his wing and flies high into the air. Then he dives into the water and catches a fish.

Blue Jay saw this and said, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen! I’ve never seen anything like that before!”

He watched as Fishing Duck did it again. He flapped his wings, flew high into the air, dove into the water and caught a fish.

Blue Jay said, “That is cool! I wish I could do something like that.”

And Fishing Duck did it again, flying high into the air, diving into the water and catching a fish.

Blue Jay said, “That is so cool! I wish I could… Wait a minute! I have wings! I can fly high into the air! I can do that too!”

So little Blue Jay stood on the river bank and flapped his wings really fast. He flew high into the air. He dove down towards the river, but he missed the water! He crashed into some rocks by the river and hit his head on them very hard. He fell intot the river knocked unconscious.

He would have drowned, but someone heard that loud crash and came to investigate. It was Blue Jays friend Bear. Bear found Blue Jay floating in the water unconscious. He dragged him out of the water and shook him.

“Blue Jay! Blue Jay! What happened?”  Bear asked.

“Oh, I cracked my head on the rocks.” Blue Jay said.

“Bear asked, “Blue Jay, how did this happen?”

Blue Jay said, “Well, I was trying to dive into the water like Fishing Duck, but I missed and hit my head really hard on the rocks. Owww!”

“Blue Jay,” Bear said. “You have to be more careful about who you try to copy. I’m going to take you home and take care of you.”

So Bear carefully lifted up Blue Jay and took him to Bears house. He lay him down by the fire and put a blanket over him. He even wrapped a bandage around his head. He said, “You rest here Blue Jay. I will check on you later.”

A while later Bear came back. “How do you feel Blue Jay?” he asked.

“A little better, but my head still hurts.” Said Blue Jay.

“Blue Jay, are you hungry?” Bear asked.

“Yeah! Yeah!” Blue Jay said. “what do we have to eat here?”

Bear said, “Blue Jay, it is the end of winter. I don’t have much food left, only a little bit of dried fish. But I will give it to you.”

Bear climbed to the rafters of his house and brought back some little bits of dried fish. “Here is all I have Blue Jay. I will give it to you, my friend. But I’m sorry to say I don’t have any dipping grease.” In the old days in every Native house they had containers of grease. Fish grease; seal grease; whale grease. They would use the grease to dip their dried food in. It made it taste better and easier to chew. But Bear said, “I do not have any grease. But I have a power I can show you.”

“A power!” Blue Jay thought. “I wonder what kind of power does Bear have?”

Bear went a got a big clam shell. He put the clam shell next to the fire. He stood by the clam shell and by the fire and clapped his paws together three times. Then he put his paws over the fire.

If you know Bear, you know he has fatty pads on the bottom of his feet. Well, after a while the that from the fire started to soften and then melt the fat in those pads and grease started to drip, drip, drip out of those fatty pads and right into the clam shell.

Blue Jay saw this and said to himself, “That is the coolest power I have ever seen! I wish I could do something like that.”

He watched as the clam shell filled with the grease dripping from Bears paws. When the clam shell was full Bear lifted it up and said, “Here is your dipping grease, Blue Jay.”

Blue Jay thought, “That is so cool! I wish I could…. Wait a minute! I have feet! I can get a clam shell!”

Blue Jay said, “Bear! Would you like some dipping grease for your dried fish?”

Bear said, “Blue Jay, what are you talking about?”

Blue Jay said, “I have powers too, you know!”

Blue Jay got a big clam shell and put it by the fire. He got a chair and brought it near the fire. He sat in the chair, clapped his feet together three times and put his feet over the fire. But Blue Jay does not have fatty pads in his feet.

After a while Blue Jays feet were getting really hot, but he kept saying, “You will have grease real soon Bear. Just wait.”

But Blue Jay saw his legs and feet were starting to shrivel up. Then he saw smoke coming out of his feet. “Hold on Bear! I will get you some grease!”

But instead of grease there was only more smoke. Then POOF! His legs got on fire. Blue Jay screamed and hopped around the house and then had to run outside and jump into a stream to put out the fire.

The next time you see a blue jay look at his feet and legs. They are black and look like burnt wood. That’s from the time Blue Jay tried to make grease in Bears house.

And that is all.

Story Questions

  1. Blue Jay always gets in trouble or does something wrong, even though he is very smart. In this story what did Blue Jay do that was wrong or created a problem?
  1. Is copying other people a bad thing?
  1. Why wasn’t Blue Jay happy with himself? Why was he always trying to be like other Animal People?
  1. In your opinion are we like Blue Jay? Do we copy other people to be cool or popular?
  1. How is this story relevant to an addiction issue like drug or alcohol abuse?

Possible Responses

  1. Blue Jay is copying other people without considering consequences. He just wants to be cool and demonstrate he can do the same things they do. He does not consider that some people have a special power or gift or that some people practice for a long time to get good. Or that some people might do some things that are bad and we should not copy them for that reason.
  1. Copying is good. It is how people learn, by watching others and copying them. It is how we learn to tie our shoes, write a math problem, or cook a cake. Copying is at the core of Native teaching and learning. But should we copy everything everyone does?
  1. Blue Jay saw what the others were doing as cool. He wanted to be like them and demonstrate how special and unique he was.
  1. People like to be seen as special or unique. They want to fit in and be seen as a popular part of the group.
  1. If cool people drink or take drugs we might try to copy them, feeling that is the key to acceptance. In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes that kids don’t smoke because it is cool. They know that it is not cool. They know about cancer and the bad smell and how you can get addicted to cigarettes. So kids don’t smoke because it is cool. They smoke because the cool kids smoke.