The Role of Allyship in Moving Towards Reconciliation

Up until this point in this open textbook, we have not directly addressed the topics of racism and discrimination. That is not to say that it does not happen. In fact, there is overt racism and discrimination that exists within most encounters that Indigenous people have with health and social systems. Racism and discrimination are directly related to colonization. Cote-Meek (2014), in her book “Colonized Classrooms,” indicates  that colonial violence is not something that exists only in the past, but is something that Indigenous students experience on a daily basis.

What is racism? It is a belief that some people are smarter or better than others based on the colour of their skin. Racism can manifest itself in hate crimes, racial slurs and/or discriminatory behaviours. People don’t start out with the intent to be racist or discriminatory. Related to racism is a concept of ‘’white skin privilege,’ which speaks to the preference of society towards whiteness. White settlers get better jobs and face less life challenges than other people.

White settlers, because of their white skin privilege, are often in positions where they can lend their power to others taking on the role of powerful allies to the less advantaged people of the world. Being an ally requires that one listens more and forms meaningful relationships with Indigenous people. These relationships must be maintained and nurtured in order for greater understanding and learning to occur. This can be challenging given the history of colonialism, but it is not impossible.

One example of allyship that can be highlighted is the role that Dr. Anne Marie Mawhiney played in the development of the Native Social Work Program, now the Indigenous Social Work Program in the School of Indigenous Relations, at Laurentian University. Dr. Mawhiney started off by trying to introduce Indigenous culture into her social work class and to find ways to ensure that her social work students were better prepared to work with Indigenous clients (Mawhiney, Alcoze & Hart, 2014). Dr. Mawhiney, along with Dr. Thom Alcoze, an Indigenous professor in the Native Studies department at the University of Sudbury, approached the Robinson-Huron chiefs with a proposal establish a culturally sensitive social work program designed by Aboriginal people for Aboriginal people (Mawhiney et al., 2014). Throughout the development of this project, Dr. Mawhiney made it very clear that her role would be only as a helper to the Indigenous people in charge of developing this project (Mawhiney et al., 2014).

Learning Activities

  1. What are your thoughts on Allyship and how would you could best promote it within colonial institutions?

  2. Describe how you would form a meaningful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. The following website contains information about how allyship is used by organizations that deal with domestic and sexual violence:
    Working Definition of Allyship: The Handout

  2. The following post by Annie M. Banks, “Different spaces: whiteness and some pitfalls and possibilities of settler solidarity work,” is about allyship. Banks identifies as a white settler of European ancestry settling on Indigenous territories. Banks discusses some of the pitfalls and possibilities that come with her social location when attempting to work “in solidarity” with Indigenous people and people of colour. In this posting, Banks draws attention to the ways in which white settlers take up spaces that can be harmful or recreate oppressive dynamics.
    Different Spaces: Whiteness and Some Pitfalls and Possibilities of Settler Solidarity Work

  1. The following video describes the experiment performed by a 3rd grade teacher in Iowa who wanted to teach her students about racism and what that felt like. In this experiment, the blue eyed students were told that they were superior and that the brown eyed students were inferior. The behaviours of the brown eyed students changed significantly with being told they were inferior. The next day, the students were told that those with brown eyes were superior and those with blue eyes were inferior.
    Jane Elliott’s Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes: An Exercise in Racism


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