By Patrick Lemoine
Perhaps being at ease with being ignorant is a fundamental part of being an anthropologist. If so, then allow me to share my success story in anthropology. Tasked with retrieving cedar for an evening sweat, Jake [another field school student –ed.] and I take to the woods, axe in hand. As instructed, we make a small offering of sage and tobacco, and make a small prayer.
“Hi. We’re kind of new to this. Thank you Cedar tree.”
We return to the camp with our axe and cedar branch. Our host greets us laughing:
“Oh you found a fir bough!”
Now I may be a city boy, but I’m not sure that’s a suitable excuse for my tree-ignorance: Cedar grows all around Vancouver. Worse, I work in the woods back home. Now that I think about it, there’s a cedar tree less than ten feet from where I ate lunch every day. Still, somehow, I couldn’t differentiate a fir from a cedar. Last week, a cedar was simply a thing in the background. This week, I find myself either pointing them out whenever possible, or being teased whenever we come across either a fir or a cedar.
Take two things from my story:
- We, the Douglas Field School students, are terribly excited by the obvious or things that are “in the background.”
- You can (and should) laugh with us about how little we know sometimes. Yes, Ignorance can be pretty embarrassing. However when that embarrassment leads to being educated by the community, it is a great thing. Furthermore, and oddly enough, being at ease with our ignorance and embarrassment seems to be an important part of our training as blooming anthropologists.