What does it mean to be a genuine ally?
Being a genuine ally involves a lot of self-reflection, education and listening. It means knowing we’re often coming into this space from a position of power and privilege. Privilege that we’ve gained through unjust systems that marginalize the groups we seek to ally with. It’s not enough to show up in solidarity and speak out against the unjust system, we have to do what is within our power to dismantle the system and differentiate ourselves from the opponents of these groups. We have to change our own behaviors and be mindful that we are not contributing to keeping that system going.
When working with Indigenous communities there isn’t one way to be an ally – because every community and individual is different. Every relationship you build needs a different approach.
Below are some suggestions that will may help:
- Listen to and follow the community
Find out who the traditional owners and Elders are of the land you are on. When doing long-term work on Indigenous rights, build strong relationships within the community and make sure everything is Indigenous-led.
- Centre the stories around community
A big part of your involvement is to amplify the voices of Indigenous communities, don’t make it about yourself. You should directly share these messages with your networks in their words without alteration.
- Know the historical and cultural context
Knowing the history and being culturally competent is vital. The issues the community face come from hundreds of years of ongoing trauma and discrimination. It is not the responsibility of the community to educate you.
- Never show up empty-handed
Showing up in support is great but offer to lend a hand as well. Use your labour, resources and skills to help out. What additional value can you bring the community?
- Always seek consent and permission
Consent is a continuous process, not a one-time request. Seek permission before taking part in community events, particularly around cultural and spiritual events. They’ll usually be labeled something like ‘all community and allies welcome’.
- Be responsible for yourself
Be aware of what resources you’re taking away from communities through your presence. Ensure you’ve given back to the community more than you’ve taken away.
- Know when to step back
Be aware of what space you are taking up. Always remember that you are there as a guest in a supportive role. There will be times when the community need to act alone, respect their boundaries.
- Saviours are not needed, solidarity is
Solidarity is only meaningful if it is substantive and not merely performative. This means showing up to support the community with your presence alone should be the baseline, not the end game.
- Be mindful of others’ time and energy
Indigenous people often have to be advocates on a wide range of issues that affect them and their community first-hand. They don’t have the choice to switch off from being involved and can be spread thin in many directions.
- Do no harm to the community
The community should be better off, or the same, because of your presence, not worse. Follow all of these suggestions and keep reflecting on your behavior and you’re on your way to doing your part in bringing down an unjust system.
This page was inspired by a similar resource created at Amnesty International USA by Kalaya’an Mendoza. Download a full version of 10 ways to be a genuine ally to Indigenous communities.
You can take this brief survey to see if there are areas where you could understand and learn more):
1) How well do you know Native American History in the US? How did you learn what you know?
2) Are you familiar with the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny – both concepts within US doctrinal history that have vast influence on the oppression of Indigenous people on this continent?
3) Do you know who are/were the original native people of where you live?
6) If you are a teacher, do you include Indigenous cultures in your teaching curriculum? Do you teach from an indigenous lens to history? If so, how you do that, and how do you know if it is accurate? Most white educators have a very limited understanding or knowledge of Native American history and do not incorporate an Indigenous cultural lens into their curriculum. Many students have no idea that there are still tribes organized and living in America. Most cannot name the local tribe of their home area.
In becoming an ally, you speak out about injustices, teach culturally accurate history, and create a consciousness about the rightful place of Indigenous people in our diverse country.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, Aboriginal Elder, activist, educator