27 December 2013

Memorial - Mr. Warner B. Wirta

A relative died a few days before Christmas.  His funeral is today.  I will be traveling down for one last visit before he journeys on.  Today's post is a reflection on what I learned from this relative.  He was my teacher in high school.  When he first started teaching, I was told by an uncle that he was a relative.  I had mixed thoughts about this.  Not sure how to react.  It was the first time I had a relative in such an important position.  Yes, there was another Indian teacher at the school.  I wasn't related to him though.

I encountered Mr. Wirta in my Civics class.  I watched him for a while.  This is when I first started learning that American history was not all written down for us to learn.  And I began to get angry.  There was more to the story that I have spent the rest of my life learning about.  And I learned how to use that anger, how to control it, though it took me years to learn.

Soon, his presence was large upon the school grounds.  This was during the time when the LIEC (Local Indian Education Committee of which my other was a member) and the JOM (Johnson O Malley) were first being organized.  And also when the AIM movement first started.

A club was organized specifically for Indian Students called Students of Redman's America-SORA.  This teacher relative was an advisor for it.  And this is when my father first started calling me a "radical."  Not that I went out on all the marches being organized by AIM.  Come to find out, one of the founders was a relative also.  So, there I am, with two examples of relatives speaking out.  I ended up choosing to follow along the lines of Mr. Wirta's thinking.  Not that I began to rally the troops as my father likes to say.  I tried my best though.  Mr. Wirta, along with my parents and others, kept me on the path of moderation, more or less.

Another important memory I have of Mr. Wirta's teaching was when he taught math.  A friend and I were put on an accelerated program though it failed after one semester.  One requirement was that we could work as far ahead as we chose to.  Thing was, we had to take the exams at the regular schedule.  Well, needless to say, we flunked because we couldn't explain the steps.  Our answers were correct.  It was a case of explaining how we arrived at those answers that tripped us up.  I learned that sometimes, when one is trail blazing, one needs to backtrack and check the trail.

What does this have to do with my writing?  Lots.  I use those teachings when putting my ideas together, making sure I am on the right track.  I'm learning to navigate the writer's world.  And Mr. Wirta's face sometimes pops into my imagination when I am struggling with how to say something.  I "keep on trucking."

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