This piece originally appeared in the Superintendent’s Update by Superintendent Cliff Chuang on Thursday, Nov. 9. Please find this week’s full issue of Superintendent’s Update and back issues at bedfordps.org.
Reflection by Indigo Fox Tree McGrath:
My family grew up in Bedford. There were the five Fox Tree-McGrath children. We were very well known for our long last names and also as the “Native American family that did the drumming at school every year.”
My mother was determined to share and educate others about our culture back when we were going through Bedford Public Schools, as she is now through her various social justice work. We are Indigenous to what is now known as “the Americas,” but from the Caribbean, not the United States. Growing up here, though, people just said, “Native American,” but now they say, “Indigenous.”
Growing up multi-racial was hard for me due to the fact I am white passing and I felt like I had to prove my authenticity as an Indigenous person to everyone. I was relentlessly asked questions such as, “But, what are you reeeeaally?” Once I said, “I am Native American,” those questions became stereotypical and personal: “Do you get to college for free? How much Native are you? Do you do this dancing as a hobby?”
It would only be when people saw my mother or grandfather that I would get the “OOOOHH, you are Native…” Or “No way! THAT is your mother (or grandfather).” This was from both peers and teachers.
My own words were not enough and I was constantly questioned. Questions were related to stereotypes because most people know so little about the history of the country where they live that they make a lot of assumptions. We don’t ask someone how much Jewish or Christian they are, but everyone wants to know how much “native” someone is, and that’s a personal and inappropriate question.
Then I found art. Art was a huge outlet for me to express my identity and struggle in a way that empowered me through what I was creating. I did not have that much access to art until high school, but my grandfather and mother were artists, so they always had supplies and encouraged art at home.
After a lot of encouragement and mentoring from my high school art teacher, Katie Sussman, I then realized I wanted to pursue art in college. I then went on to earn my degree in Studio Art while also playing college lacrosse at Framingham State University. I grew so much as a person and artist there. I found an awesome community in their Center for Inclusive Excellence who helped me feel more confident in being multi-racial and an activist on/off of campus.
My lacrosse team was amazing and helped me grow in my leadership skills. They also always supported me in my Native American presentations I did on campus and often joined me at my holidays and Pow Wows throughout my years there.
I then returned to Bedford as a Teaching Assistant and lacrosse coach as I was deciding on whether or not I wanted to pursue my Master’s degree in Art Education.
Eventually, I did pursue Art Education, and by 2022, I was serving as a long term substitute art teacher at the John Glenn Middle School for an entire year. During that first year, I had a variety of projects that I introduced with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists as inspiration. I felt I wanted to provide a diverse curriculum that reflected multiple students’ identities or at least start to think about how identity and art are related. I found that it made my students’ art feel more important to them. I even included a project for my eighth graders that was introduced with a lesson about the Equinoxes and the Solstices because those are the observances/holidays my family and I grew up celebrating.
Although I have recently moved on to teaching in another district, I still stay connected to the Bedford community by coaching high school girls’ lacrosse and middle school field hockey.
Indigo Fox Tree-McGrath
Bedford Public Schools, Student/Teacher, Alumni
Also in the Superintendent’s Update: “Coffee & Cocoa Chats with Cliff (CCCC)” talks with Superintendent Chuang are coming up. Sign up here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/10C084BAEAE23A0FDC25-45785027-coffee#/