An ally takes supportive action with a person or group that has been systemically and historically mistreated. These individuals or groups are often referred to as marginalized. Marginalization occurs when there is an imbalance of power causing undue adversity. Usually the inequity is due to intolerance of race, gender, or socio-economic standing. One can align with a number of groups as an ally. While each group has distinct differences, there are a few general fundamentals that any ally should know. Ally toolkits have been developed to help people with these guidelines. As an indigenous ally my learning journey is continuous, and often the smallest lessons can make a huge impact towards empowering change.
What is Allyship?
Allyship is often over simplified and misrepresented in modern contexts. Indigenous Allyship: An Overview by Smith, Pucket and Simon (2015) states, “To be an ally, it is not enough to merely be motivated to express minimal or no prejudice towards Aboriginal Peoples.” Being an ally is taking supportive action, rather than leading the charge. It is knowing when to listen and when to speak out. It is reflecting upon and evaluating historical and continued systemic domination of non-dominant groups. It is supporting change through education, as well as supporting action toward change and equity. It is learning from those to whom one is allied.
Being open to learning
Over the years, my indigenous relations have been teaching me how to be an ally or how to best support them. One thing I have learned is to be careful about how I discuss the trauma existing in First Nations communities. These topics must be carefully balanced with sharing the positive contributions of the First Nations, including the actions their communities are taking to heal and de-colonize.
One of the primary ways marginalization proliferates is through the conscious and / or sub-conscious fostering of fear. The stories we hear, and perhaps give power to by retelling, can perpetuate fear based thinking and division.
The Stories that Perpetuate Division
Recently Maskwasis Boysis, an indigenous scholar, speaker, and past guest contributor to this blog space, posted a thought provoking question on social media. The question caught my attention because he specifically directed it towards indigenous allies. He asked, what one sided, misconceptions we had heard that perpetuated resentment, division, fear, prejudice or hatred towards First Nations people. Respondents replied with many overt examples that ranged from derogatory terminology usage to stories of outright fear mongering.
His question gave me pause to think about experiences where dialogue may have perpetuated, intentionally or otherwise, misconceptions of indigenous communities or people. I remembered a particular situation that occurred prior to my experience working with First Nations communities or becoming an ally. Several years ago, I volunteered with a Junior B hockey organization, and often attended the away games. The league comprised of several small town teams, included one team from a First Nation. Prepared to attend the away game on the First Nation, the team expressed their apprehension about my attendance, stating their concern for my safety, and told me to stay home.
A Learning Journey
Ironically, my professional journey led me to working in the school where most of the students happened to be from the First Nations that the team suggested was dangerous and I avoid. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time in that community, with the families, learning about the culture and their challenges. I’ve never felt unsafe there. In fact, I have always felt welcomed. My time in the community and with the people has been extremely enriching.
What Defines Us
Indeed, scary things happen on the Nations. There is a direct correlation between the historical mistreatment of indigenous peoples and the challenges they face. Some of Maskwasis’ indigenous respondents recognized that, at times, the stories are reality. Scary things also happen everywhere. Including in the ‘sleepy’ rural community where I live; however, those incidents do not define my community; nor should negatives define any community.
Being an ally is continually learning. It is about staying curious, questioning the stories, and being willing to expose biases with the intention of creating positive change. Being an ally is learning how to weave these intricacies together, as guided by those who we are allied. Respecting all who are involved in order to nudge change forward.
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