22 Being an Ally
If you are a non-Indigenous person engaged in the work of Indigenization, then you can better understand your role in this movement as being an ally to Indigenous people. An ally is someone from a privileged group who is aware of how oppression works and struggles alongside members of an oppressed group to take action to end oppression.
- does not put their own needs, interests, and goals ahead of the Indigenous people they are working with.
- has self-awareness of their own identity, privilege, and role in challenging oppression.
- is engaged in continual learning and reflection about Indigenous cultures and history.
In Becoming an Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People, activist, author, and educator Anne Bishop explains how a central aspect of being an ally is recognizing and being aware of one’s own role in a system of oppression.
Remember that everyone in the oppressor group is part of the oppression. It is ridiculous to claim you are not sexist if you are a man or not racist if you are white and so on. No matter how much work you have done on that area of yourself, there is more to be done. All members of this society grow up surrounded by oppressive attitudes; we are marinated in it. I do not believe anyone raised in Western society can ever claim to have finished ridding themselves completely of their oppressive attitudes. It is an ongoing task, like keeping the dishes clean. In fact, the minute I hear someone claim to be free of the attitudes and actions of a certain oppression (as in “I’m not racist”) I know they have barely begun the process. Humility is the mark of someone who has gone a ways down the road and has caught a glimpse of just how long the road is…. Having accepted that every member of an oppressor group is an oppressor, try not to feel that this makes you a “bad” person. Self-esteem does not have to mean distancing yourself from the oppressor role, it can come instead from taking a proud part in the struggle to end oppression. This involves learning to separate guilt from responsibility. Guilt means taking on all the weight of history as an individual; responsibility means accepting your share of the challenge of changing the situation. (p. 114-115)
Activity 1: Becoming an Ally
Time: 15 min
Reflect on the Anne Bishop excerpt in relation to Indigenization:
- As a non-Indigenous person, to what extent are you responsible for Indigenizing the curriculum? Why do you carry this responsibility? What cautions must you take as you work to support Indigenization?
- Why is guilt not a useful emotion for an ally? What is needed to move beyond guilt and into action?
- How would you define your role in the process of Indigenization? How does your identity and life experience impact how you perceive your role? Make a list of areas and ways you can best contribute, given your identity and experience.
Activity 2: Working with Allies
Time: 15 min
As an Indigenous person, consider how you can work with and involve non-Indigenous people in supporting Indigenization. Why is their contribution important? What would it look like for you to work with allies in a de-colonized way?
In the passage below, Dorothy Christian, a Secwepemc-Syilx woman, talks about her personal experience working with non-Indigenous allies. Consider how her experience is similar or different from your own. She writes:
Throughout the evolution of my multi-dimensional identity—that is, my personal, political, social, spiritual, and academic development—I have looked closely at the intersections of race, identity, and culture, including the multiple histories of the settler peoples in coexistence with Indigenous peoples….In my history with Victoria Freeman, a thirteenth-generation North American settler, we have decolonized ourselves and looked at what institutional decolonization might look like. Decolonization is one of those big conceptual words that encompass many things and no doubt means different things to different people. For me it meant dealing with the deeply embedded racism we felt towards each other and deconstructing the many preconceived notions we had about each other to finally reach a place where we can honour each other’s dignity and achieve a true reconciliation as human beings….It is a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking process that requires a level of commitment to a relationship that is rarely found in friendships. (p. 73)
Activity 3: Allyship and lifelong learning
Time: 15 min
If you are a non-Indigenous person, the most important attitude you can adopt as an ally to Indigenous people is that of a lifelong learner. It is critical that you take the time to learn about Indigenous history, cultures, and communities.
Watch this short video in which Dr. Susan Dion, a Potawatomi /Lenape professor at York University, talks about being an ally and the importance of lifelong learning: Teachers as Allies. (Scroll down to find this clip).
Optional activity: Read blogger Cody Charles’ writing on pitfalls to avoid as an ally.
- If you are a non-Indigenous person, what steps can you take to engage in lifelong learning?
- If you are an Indigenous person, would you be willing to support and work with aspiring allies? If so, how might you do that?