Launching the Folk School

Stories matter. The stories that are told to us and that we tell to ourselves mold our expectations and aspirations, suggest role-models or villains, indicate what is desirable, possible, or unacceptable, and provide a constellation of cultural reference points that are absorbed, whether consciously or unconsciously, into our psyches.

Native peoples all around the world have been in a long struggle to keep or regain control of their own stories. Many find that reclaiming their own native languages, cultures, and lands is both healing and empowering.

Gaelic proverb: “The man who loses his language loses his world.”

A recent article from New Zealand, “Using Māori storytelling to help and to heal,” illustrates this well:

“I grew up with Greek stories, I grew up with English stories. So going back to these [Māori] stories, it decolonises our experiences in life, so we engage with our source material, our source knowledge, Māori knowledge.”

– Dr Waikaremoana Waitoki, a clinical psychologist and a senior research fellow at Waikato University

The iconography of the Scottish Highlands – tartans, kilts, bagpipes –, and the colorful pageantry around it, creates a smokescreen around the colonial experience of Scottish Gaels over the last four centuries. The layers of romanticization and exoticization both obscure and trivialize a complex history and rich culture. The neglect of these issues in the academy makes it even more difficult for the millions of people descended from Scottish Highlanders to find accurate information and useful methods for interpreting and analyzing it.

This has been true even in Scotland itself, as Alastair McIntosh relates:

‘But why didn’t you people teach us this stuff too?’ I demanded, waving the book and speaking in an almost accusatory tone. But I didn’t need to worry. Cicero knew exactly what I meant and was sympathetic.
‘Ah, well …,’ he replied, signally a conversational deepening of psychological depth. ‘You see, it was not in the curriculum. And in any case, we were ashamed of it.’

– Alastair McIntosh, Soil and Soul (2001), p. 95

Between renewed interest in genealogy, popular media such as Outlander, and growing efforts in Scotland and Canada to revitalize the Gaelic language, increasing numbers of people are becoming aware of their Scottish Highland ancestry and interested in getting in touch with it in various ways. Other people immerse themselves in Gaelic tradition without any ancestral ties, drawn by its intrinsic beauty. It is a truly remarkable, stimulating, valuable legacy well worth exploring.

Indigenous cultures can help us to understand what it means to belong to a place and to a community. They can help to heal us from inter-generational wounds of dispossession and cultural disorientation. As Cailín Laing has recently written about her experience of learning Gaelic in Nova Scotia:

“What could I become if I were to channel this confusion and curiosity into breaking the chain of colonization and shame? … I have discovered what I consider to have been the most integral part of my learning: the transmission of language and culture through community and the development of a meaningful connection to my people.”

Cailín Laing, “Tha Gàidhlig agad co-dhiù | learning through loving, healing through connecting” July 31, 2019

Hidden Glen Folk School of Scottish Highland Heritage is dedicated to the mission of connecting people to authentic Scottish Gaelic culture so that they can drink deeply from the well of tradition and the cup of community to satisfy their curiosity, to enable their healing, and to contribute to the restoration of the world.

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