Sometimes it is hard to break down barriers when certain groups of people are  “misunderstood” by the wider community. When a certain group of people are misunderstood, it gives other people free rein to make assumptions and judgements.  Indigenous people are one of those group of people that are misunderstood which often leads to assumptions that are based on what you see and hear in the news, what you see on the streets, as well as what you hear from others.

On Tuesday, August 14th, I was driving south on 14th Street approaching 17th Avenue SW going to MRU to meet with Andrea Kennedy at the Hub. While driving, three words seemed to appear out of nowhere in my frame of thought: misunderstood, understood and understand.  I shared it briefly with Andrea at our meeting at the Hub but did not go into too much details around the three words. When I finally got home, I was sitting around thinking about them and it seemed like ‘Api stoo tooki’ (the Creator) put these words into my mind so that I can use them as another means of trying to deal with reconciliation and how best to try and quantify it. I did some research into the three words and came up with the following to best describe how I can use them to make an effort in sharing of knowledge vis-à-vis people or things:  


  • If you describe someone or something as misunderstood, you mean that people do not understand them and have a wrong impression or idea of them.


  • "I finally understood why thinking of others as different was wrong." It is my preconceived notions of them through literature, media and other means helped in shaping my view of them.


  • "Now I understand that my uncontested view of people can hurt."

We can use them to illustrate a process of been stuck in the misunderstood stage and matters pertaining to our worldview are shaped by biases, behaviors, attitudes, stereotyping, racial profiling and other negative views of certain groups of people. Much of the work has to take place in the misunderstood stage before we can move onto the understood stage and eventually into the understand stage.

When I look at the three words through my language and put it into Blackfoot so that I can look at it from my Indigenous or Blackfoot worldview, I can say that the process would go from ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ to ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ to finally, ‘Niko tsi ta pim wawa’. This is going from misunderstood to understood to understand. For example, we can use technology to illustrate the process:

An Elder is afraid to use a cell phone because she is afraid to use it since she has seen reports on cell phones exploding and other stories related to her by others. In reality, she is scared of using a cell phone and wants no part of owning one. But her granddaughter wants her to start using a cell phone to better communicate with family and she wants to teach her on how to use the phone. Amidst grandma’s fears, she begins to teach her on how to dial a number and how to text family. And over the course of practicing what she was taught, she is slowly moving away from the ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ or misunderstood stage into the ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ or understood stage. As grandma practices more and gaining more confidence with the cell phone, she is moving into the ‘Niko tsi ta pim wawa’ or now I understand stage. Now grandma has mastered the cell phone and able to communicate with her family. However, as with some things comes a price since she can use the phone without help, grandma talks to family constantly and her incessant texting is driving everyone crazy. Now her family is saying that they should have left grandma alone.

In the case of people, we can get stuck in the ‘misunderstood’ stage through our own volition and sometimes find it difficult to exit or finding a way out of it. When we find ourselves stuck in this stage, then we have to do an introspection of ourselves in order to uncover why we are stuck. This would mean that we need to be honest with ourselves with our thoughts around attitudes and behaviors. This means that we have to ‘Ah tsit ta na ka ni tsah kiupa’ or ‘drill deep down’ into our soul in order to uncover who we really are as a person. In some instances, it may cause discomfort. It may arouse negative feelings that we have suppressed or have been in denial about our feelings. The description of misunderstood starts to become apparent as it is described as someone or something as misunderstood, means that people do not understand them and have a wrong impression or idea of them. In the Blackfoot language we say, ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ or ‘I don’t understand them at all’. At this point, it is a decision to either continue to be stuck at this stage or move forward to learn more about understanding people that we view as different according to our worldview.

When people decide to do something constructive in the misunderstood stage and work on it diligently, with new knowledge and self-awareness they begin to move into the ‘understood’ stage. So with new found knowledge, they are beginning to understand why thinking of others as different was wrong and their preconceived notions through literature, media, and other means helped shaped their view of them. In Blackfoot, they are moving into ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ or ‘I am starting to understand them’. By choosing to be un-stuck and making that effort to move forward to challenging their own fears and prejudices. They are creating a new landscape in how they view people.

When people go through a process of doing an introspection of themselves and learning more about themselves and what makes them tick. People begin to understand that their uncontested view of people can and does hurt people. In Blackfoot, they are moving into ‘Ni ko tsi ta pim mawa” or ‘now I understand them’. The new landscape that they have created is suddenly becoming greener with new knowledge that they have gained about people that they did not understand to begin with.

The process of going from ‘Ni ma to ko tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘misunderstood’) to ‘Niko mata po tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘understood’) and finally into ‘Ni ko tsi ta pim mawa’ (‘understand’) will not be an easy and smooth transitional journey but one must be willing to take that difficult journey. The journey to reconciliation is not an easy one too but one must make a choice to do it.

The questions I will leave with you are, “Where do you fit into the misunderstood, understood, and understand stage?”  “What do you need to do in order to navigate through the stages?” A recent documentary called, First Contact, caused some stir with both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. The three stages fit nicely into the documentary and maybe a reason why those three words popped into my frame of mind back in August. Thank you.