Dear Stories of Self and Solidarity

Courtney Wooten, organized and produced of the event with community support from The Edmonds Library, The Edmonds Diversity Commission, Edmonds NAC, The Cheesemongers’ Table, Dahlstrom Builders, LLC, The Seattle Storytellers Guild and Together with her family, the Wooten-Forgy family, the held space for the community to come together.

Courtney started off by saying, “A good story gets to change the world”.

And that, my friends, new and old, is were we begin. I’m going to tell you a story about my understanding of business systems AND my understanding of Indigenous Ways of Knowing and of sharing that knowledge.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman, who wanted to be a teacher. Life choices and circumstances made that she took the meandering route to pursue the profession of education, but along the way she dabbled in business, learning, teaching, training and following the continuous improvement cycle. This woman, thought she knew more than most and at times, felt undervalued and felt it was her place to take. But there was something inside her that she had learned about the world — it was that it was not fair, and not designed for those with the kinds of ideals that she also knew. But there was a disconnect. Often her values of respect and care for others, were selective to only certain folks. Sometimes that value and respect, were to those who were able to see her and the value the knowledge, skills and ability she possessed and sometimes it was reserved to those with position authority and power over her. Either way, selective.

Ron Carucci, at the recent Sno-Isle Library TedX, was talking about POWER — he had a slide up that said ‘POWER in our positions — the power to being justice’ and he went on to say that ‘Those who feel wronged, feel emPOWERed to take.’ I felt the floor move.
WOW, that was a younger version of me.

As a young, single mom working and going to school — feeling the effects of the social, cultural, economic and political systems — I knew I was the wrong kind of mother — I did not possess the consumer — ability — and thus for many of my intersecting identities [1]- I understood what being was UNDERVALUED meant, first hand. I was working full-time, going to school[2] to get ahead but I didn’t feel I had the OPTION to pursue my passion –in the state of Florida in order to complete an undergraduate degree in education, you must be able to do an unpaid internship and as a single mom, I did not know if I would be able to afford that when the time came. Therefore, I took STRATEGIC path and switched to a BUSINESS major, management of information systems. In my undergraduate program I continued learning about the disconnect between the lessons taught and how the reality of my life was — I FELT wronged.

Fast forward, after I finished by undegraduate degree in Business, I realized I DID want to teach and followed a path to alternate certification. I was finally able to REALIZE my dreams. However, there was still a disconnect. You see, though I was making more that I ever had, teachers and those who do CARE work, are generally UNDERPAID and UNDERVALUED in our society. The messages kept coming.

I decided to pursue a Masters in Education, with specialization in Learning Technologies. In reading about digital divides, I became interested in the ways researchers were talking about kids, like the ones in my classroom — and again, I knew there was a disconnect. I was in my last quarter working on a final project when a colleague opened the door in my mind to the possibility of pursing a doctorate. What she did was both huge and simple — she asked questions that freed my mind to think outside of the box. I went on to explore what research programs or degrees were available and which ones I might be interested in. I read and read — AND despite by best efforts, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I searched deep inside me and located the values instilled in me — using those values to guide my way. I then found Information Schools, also known as the field of Library and Information Science. I thought, ‘surely that was a way for me’. I happened on Dr. Cheryl Metoyer and the Indigenous Information Research Group at the University of Washington, the only Information School in the country at that time, with an emphasis on culture and information. So I knew that was my way.

Dr. Metoyer (or Aunty Cheryl, as I refer to her in my heart) with all the LOVE, RESPECT and ADMIRATION of someone whose wisdom comes deep and is layered in each of the stories she shared, filled with knowledge and modeling the way for our values. She developed and taught a course titled Cross-Cultural Approaches to Leadership, and I knew I needed to take THAT course. But I will say, it was a hard journey. It was hard because EXTERNAL forces, and us needing to come together as a community. But it was also hard because of INTERNAL forces, and needing to reconcile the cognitive dissonance inside.

In a gathering I had recently with Jen Ten Bears, an elder, educator and collaborator for the Critical Pedagogy Summit, she said, ‘the longest journey is to travel is from the mind to the heart’.

I know that for me, it has taken a lifetime. Let me share with you some lessons I learned.

1) Leadership is BIG Business.

I don’t recall the numbers and it is irrelevant to the story — but the fact remains that every time I have heard industry statistics about business of leadership, I am appalled at the amount of money that is there. Yet, at the Information School, we have this course — Cross Cultural Approaches to Leadership[3]. It was the first leadership course I had taken that prioritized cultural values of leaders.

Dr. Metoyer designed it in a way that honors co-creation[4]. By creating a structure that required us to research and share our multi-layered process of analysis — we learned from our instructors, we conducted our own research[5], and we also learned from the lessons inside ourselves and from each other. On the one hand, we were to read and understand and analyze leadership from business perspectives or orientation. And then on the other, we were researching our own histories and went as far back as we could go on our own cultural indigeneity. Through the readings, listening and processing of the stories and the elements that they contain — we were learning to see the lessons of leadership that are hidden in plain sight, present in stories. We conducted extensive research on the folklore and children’s stories of our own cultures. And then we analyzed what they meant and looked for where and how leadership was mentioned. You see, Dr. Metoyer understands AUTHENTICITY, RELATIONALITY and COMMUNITY. And knew that each of us already has the CAPACITY to LEAD inside of us through the POWER and LAYERED MEANINGs present in STORIES.

The notion of Co-Creation is such that the knowing that each one of us has IS an important ingredient to the learning space and each one of us together continues to the knowledge we are creating in community. As Kathy Coffey said in her recent TedX, we are in COMMON UNITY.

One of my assignments in the class[6] when I was the student, was comparing and contrasting “Reinventing the Rules” chapter which addressed the unique female qualities of leadership (Book, 2000) and Daniel Goleman’s “What Makes a Leaders?”[7]


Overall, there is POSITIVE ALIGNMENT of the QUALITIES of leaders in the readings and my personal observation and understanding of EFFECTIVE LEADERS. Both in theory and in practice, the foundation of INTEGRITY and COMMITMENT TO PERSONAL GROWTH serve as a SPARK that INSPIRES and has the POTENTIAL to spread like wildfire creating a space that flourishes with CREATIVITY, RESPECT and ALLOWS SPACE FOR progress. The emotional intelligence that WE HAVE and NURTURE REQUIRES TIME to develop and continually needed to REVISIT. Just as our development as individuals is challenged in different times and spaces, we need to RESERVE THE TIME to REFLECT and GROW with each encounter and each decision. Even effective leaders find themselves in states of disarray, but being SELF-AWARE and allowing for SELF-REGULATION means that they are in tune with themselves enough to ACKNOWLEDGE when there has been a VIOLATION of that INTERNAL COMPASS and take the necessary STEPS to make PEACE and move forward.

2) Whose Knowledge is Valued?

Productivity is the measure of the efficiency of production. For example, it is the output divided by the input (labor hours). Or it can be the output divided by the investment (money). In mathematical terms, productivity is measured by the ratio of output to input. Yet, I worked in manufacturing and when we would look at our metrics at Rockwell Collins not all time counted. The clock was stopped while we waited for the supplier or we waited for someone to get back to us. Despite our best efforts, the NOT ALL energy and effort was counted — because there was something else tied to the measurement. It was no longer a way to know where we are and where we want to be, it was now for the purpose of knowing who or what had the responsibility. And those responsibilities did not count at all. But if you asked our clients who were waiting 180 + days for one of their instruments to be returned, despite our calculations and metrics saying our turn around time was under 30 days. That client — well, they felt forgotten and rightfully so. We did not take the whole process into account from a client’s perspective.

3) Language

Indigenous and Hispanic Scholar Cordova explains how language conditions our thinking in her book titled, ‘How It Is: The Native American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova’. The use of language enables and constrains what we are able to communicate. When I teach, mentor and facilitate, I pay close attention to the subtle (and sometimes overt ways) we provide judgment. For instance, ‘You JUST do this on the computer’, or ‘You know where I am coming from, right?’, or even in the ways we inquire and ask question[8], ‘Now that x happened, are you and your partner going to have kids?’ These examples lean towards a specific orientation, one that says singularity is more the mode, one of EXPECTED (normative behaviors) or that limited to a few paths despite that fact that there are so many factors that may influence this ability up to and including financial ability and fertility — both pretty intimate conversations. In particular, the example of the last question makes many ASSUMPTIONS, while also reminding and REINFORCING that certain IDENTITIES and attributes are more valued and expected by our society. But what if we shifted and asked something along the lines of, ‘Now that x happened, WHAT is next in store for you?’ How might that provide both the interest and curiosity in the persons AND also provide the RESPECT to know that they can choose to discuss whatever part of that they choose to in that particular CONTEXT. Having a more open ended approach to being interested and engaged would make the question appropriate regardless of CONTEXT because the person responding has the CHOICE to answer whatever part of the question they feel like sharing at that time, with that company and in that context — be it a work party with their boss, or at a school function, or in a community event with many ears surrounding.

4) “We’re All the Same, Differently”[9]

Being able to take another PERSPECTIVE is necessary. If we think about it, we will see that it is true. We all want RESPECT and DIGNITY. Though HOW these play out and what we need to feel it, might be differently based on our own unique contexts, identities, and cultures. The stories we say about the land, shape our understandings of the world. Aluli Meyer guides us to think about honoring the specificity of place. RESPECT is place specific and PROTOCOLs are distinct based on place and peoples. Aluli Meyer says Maori RESPECT each other’s CAPACITY; she shares some of the lessons she learned from her year sabbatical in New Zealand. She goes on to say that having RESPECT and FREEDOM means that we have both FREEDOM of THOUGHT and of CAPACITY. It means, being able to decide for your self.

BLACK LIVES MATTER, NoDAPL, #critlib, Conditionally Accepted, Presumed Incompetent, FemTechNet, National Alliance of Domestic Workers, #metoo, others have been all about the KNOWING that in the eyes of our SYSTEMS we are not ALL TREATED THE SAME, DIFFERENTLY. Certain knowledges, identities, characteristics, attributes, bodies, and languages are undervalued by our society, erased, silenced and ignored.

5) Values

It is wild. I have gone through a lifetime formal and informal schooling and 15 years of higher education, to come full circle. All this, in order to begin to see what children under the age of five, possess freely. The natural state, children are not constrained by the lines, paper or even table. They are accepting of others, they live in the moment and they aren’t afraid to ask questions. Their hearts know. They question. They ask ‘why’, then another layer of ‘why’, then another layer of ‘why’, to help them understand complex systems around them and build schemas of information. Now these values are embedded in our brains as we continue to learn and develop in order to make sense of the world. When there is a disconnect between our values and our thoughts, behaviors, and actions — we suffer. My experiences have been evidence of that my internal compass serves to guide me and when I do or think or act in a way that is aligned with my value of respect, it serves as a disruption. I felt out of balance, disoriented and my cup was empty because I was not acting with integrity. Children know when we are not doing as we say we will, and they hold us accountable. You don’t have to believe me to think about WHAT CAN YOU LEARN from a five-year-old?

The difference between ancient times and now, is that we could see more clearly then because we it was more tangible and direct, how our communal values were played out. Currently, in our society, advances in science and technology, make it so that we are further removed from the embedded values and processes (and their values).



Our US Centric and Individualistic orientations, as well as our functional and practical organizational needs (within our social, cultural, economic and political contexts) position us towards a transactional standpoint. Research done in business and interpersonal relationships even uses this terminology of a ratio between deposits and withdrawals. Deposits are a sort of positive interaction and a withdraw is a negative interaction in either given context. Having a ratio represent the longitudinal measure of health and endurance of a relationship, is transaction based.

Transactional Standpoint Ratio of Deposits:Withdrawals

What knowing our selves can offer, is a greater insight to our relational values. We we combine that together with stories of solidarity — we begin again to know what we have always known. We are in relation to one another. As V.F. Cordova writes, ‘We are the same, differently.’ Stories offer us the potential to move us closer to a Relational Standpoint. An orientation grounded in the 3 Rs- Respect, Reciprocity, Responsibility. It is the RESPECT for all of our parts; identities, Knowledges; skills; ability; capacity. Connected with RESPONSIBILITY for the land, ourselves and each other. Woven together with RECIPROCITY. “Our EVERYDAY ACTIONS send CLEAR MESSAGES of WHAT [and WHOM] we VALUE. What will you TAKE with you today?”[11]

Relational Standpoint: 3 R’s: Respect, Reciprocity and Responsibility

A special thanks to Courtney Wooten and all those who were part of making the Stories of Self and Solidarity a reality in Edmonds, WA, Prof. Hala Annabi from the University of Washington, to all those who have been in common unity with me and shared life lessons. Last, but definitely not least, a special thanks to the Indigenous Information Research Group- thanks for adopting[12] me and helping me find my way.

[1] Identities can include: skin color, ethnicity, height/weight, sexual identity, gender, spirituality, ability (cognitive, neurological, psychological, physical, motor), status, language, quirks, body size, temperament. Sometimes we carry identities into contexts, but choose not to outwardly share them or do not have the opportunity to do so. Some potentially hidden identities can include things like: national origin, parental status, drug use, citizenship status, fertility.

[2] Part-time.

[3] Course Description: This course explores alternative leadership models as reflected in the literature of multiple cultures, and research traditions. Students will examine the ethical dimensions of leadership in the context of complex relationships among the peoples and information agencies that comprise the global environment.

[4] So much was that notion of co-creation at the heart of the course, that I did not actually take the class from Dr. Metoyer, I took it from two of her doctoral students and a community of folks who came together to offer this course.

[5] What kind of research you ask? Well, our fabulous Librarian and partner, Glenda Pearson, MLS, curated a collection of specific databases, general and specific search items and resources to help guide each class and student in class. These included: a series of collection of databases with information on folklore literature, tales, legends, myths and Culture, Ethnicity and Leadership; Folklore Collections; Folklore Bibliographies of Reference and Secondary Sources; Tale- and Type-Motif; Selected Geographic- and/or Ethnic- Specific Titles; General and Specific Electronic Resources; Culturally/Ethnically Specific Resources

[6] INFX 583 Cross Cultural Approaches to Leadership. I took the course in 2013, taught it in 2015 and supported a colleague who went on to teach it in 2016. Each one building on our collective and unique knowledge, skills and abilities — AND each iteration POWERFUL.

[7] Book, E.W. “Reinventing the Rules” in Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman: The Unique Female qualities of Leadership. New York: Harper Business, 2000.

Goleman, D. “What Makes a Leader?” Harvard Business Review 82 (January 2004): 82–91.

[8] In particular, I am referring to non-open ended questions.

[9] Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer is an Associate Professor of Education from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. She is the fifth daughter of Emma Aluli and Harry Meyer and grew up on the shores of Kailua beach on the island of O’ahu. Manu was based at the University of Auckland in 2006 as a Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga. Her work is in indigenous epistemology and its application in transforming education and society. Aluli Meyer states that we are all the related in different ways.

[10] Roger Fernandes said telling, listening and sharing stories is different than reading stories in a book. In oral traditions, in the telling of the stories, we exchange Sacred Breath. Our souls connect.

[11] Borrowed from the Washington Library Association Pre-Conference workshop — Reimagining Transgender ‘Inclusion’ for Libraries. A special thanks to Micah Kehrein, Sunny Kim, Bean Yogi and my dear friend, colleague, librarians and teacher Reed Garber-Pearson.

[12] As an affiliate member of the IIRG, you have helped me find the way within myself and held space for me. You guided me by modeling the relational way. Thank you each for your mentorship and being you, and for seeing the spark in me.