Throughout the month of June, we recognized Indigenous History Month by reflecting on the historical and contemporary impacts of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Our posts included a timeline of colonialism in Canada; an overview of the ongoing effects of colonialism on Indigenous Peoples across societal systems; and an examination of the role of patriarchy in colonization.
While these issues are far too deep to be properly covered in a blog series, we aimed to take an equity-informed approach to the subject. Our goal was to name and acknowledge the anti-Indigenous racism that underpins Canada and recognize Indigenous Peoples’ fight for equity and to affirm their inherent sovereignty.
But the work does not end with acknowledgement, nor is it only important during Indigenous History Month. As people residing on Indigenous lands, we must consider our responsibility as allies and accomplices for and with Indigenous Peoples year-round. We each have our role to play in taking action for equity.
On July 1st, we offered a series of questions (via our social media accounts) meant to guide our personal reflection and position as people who work and reside on Indigenous traditional territories. In this post, we will provide some support for engaging meaningfully with these questions as individuals and in our respective communities.
What does it mean to be Canadian, and what does it mean to live in Canada?
If you are not Indigenous, being Canadian means living on lands that have either been stolen or misappropriated through unjust treaty-making processes. This conversation is complicated by the reality that many Canadians are immigrants, refugees, descendants of African Peoples enslaved in Canada, or descendants of enslaved African Peoples who fled the U.S. to Canada. Many people who are members of these communities also experience discrimination and inequity in Canada. However, this does not change the reality that the existence of Canada as we know it is the direct result of colonization, the theft of land from Indigenous Peoples, and the violent erasure of Indigenous communities and cultures We must recognize that an individual can both be subjected to certain types of oppression and a beneficiary of others.
What is my relationship (or lack thereof) to Indigenous communities and histories?
The answer to this question will, of course, differ from individual to individual. But we should all consider that anti-Indigenous racism and colonial values are embedded in many of the sources and mediums that shape our understandings of Indigenous communities and histories. From the school curriculum, to our families, to news media, what we are taught about Indigenous Peoples is often biased and racist.
But as potential allies and accomplices, we have a responsibility to develop a more equity-informed relationship with Indigenous communities and histories. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Listen to and learn from Indigenous advocates, activists, historians, and scholars
- Think critically about mainstream portrayals of Indigenous Peoples and communities
- Use what you learn to challenge racist stereotypes and anti-Indigenous narratives
- Donate to, volunteer with, or amplify the work of Indigenous organizations
How have I benefited from the colonization of Indigenous lands?
To be a non-Indigenous person residing in Canada is to benefit from colonization. Every part of the present-day Canadian experience is available to us because of the colonization of Indigenous lands, which includes intentional and systematic oppression of Indigenous Peoples – such as policies of displacement, assimilation and enfranchisement. Some of the ways we benefit from colonization include owning property, operating businesses, accessing education and employment opportunities, and receiving healthcare. Simply put, to be Canadian is to participate in colonialism.
What responsibility do I have to and for Indigenous Peoples as a person living on Indigenous lands?
This, like many other questions on this list, is one we have to consider and answer as individuals. However, it is worth thinking about the reality that many of the privileges that Canadians see as a given—clean drinking water, adequate housing, healthcare, food security, education, and employment opportunities—are often withheld from or inaccessible to Indigenous Peoples and communities in Canada. If we find it difficult or uncomfortable to accept that reality, we should consider what role we can play in changing it.
How can I listen to and amplify the voices and social movements of Indigenous communities, activists, and organizations?
To be effective allies and accomplices for and with Indigenous Peoples, we need to follow the leadership and activism of Indigenous Peoples. This means intentionally seeking out their voices and perspectives. Our advocacy for and with Indigenous Peoples should be guided by the work that Indigenous communities are already doing. Our conversations and online sharing about Indigenous issues should also be informed by the work of Indigenous Peoples. Here are some ways to do this:
- Read books, articles, blogs, and other written works from Indigenous Peoples
- Search Indigenous-led organizations in your city or province and explore volunteer opportunities
- Follow Indigenous creators on social media and engage with and share their content
- When mainstream media covers Indigenous issues, look for Indigenous sources on the subject
- Refer friends, colleagues, or family members to Indigenous-led organizations and resources when discussing Indigenous issues
How can I do more to act as an ally and accomplice for Indigenous rights and sovereignty? What can I do to demand legislative change from the governments in Canada to secure the rights and affirm the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples?
This is another question that must be answered on a personal basis. ‘Doing more’ has to be defined in relation to what you are already doing. As Canadian citizens, we have the power to use our voices and our votes to demand change from our elected officials and governments. In our allyship with Indigenous communities, we can use that power to demand legislative change that secures the rights and affirms the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples. You can do this by:
- Voting for politicians and parties that prioritize Indigenous issues in local, provincial, and federal elections
- Writing to your elected official and voicing your concerns about the mistreatment of Indigenous Peoples in Canada
- Signing petitions, especially those created by Indigenous advocates and activists, that demand attention and change from the Canadian government
Is my equity work intersectional, including and accounting for the intersecting identities of members of Indigenous communities? This includes feminism, LGBTQ+ activism, and advocacy for the homeless, disability community, elderly, and children.
In our society, inequity takes many forms. Along with racism, these include homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ageism, ableism, and classism. In Canada, there are many movements that seek to address these issues individually. If you are an active participant in or leader of any of these movements, it is important to consider whether your activism accounts for members of the communities you support who are also Indigenous. For example, does your feminism address the experiences of Indigenous women? Is your LGBTQ+ activism inclusive of the Two-Spirit community? Taking an intersectional approach to activism of all kinds allows you to build a movement that ensures the rights and needs of Indigenous Peoples with intersecting identities are addressed.
Answering these questions may lead to uncomfortable truths. That is not a bad thing. We cannot fix what we do not face. If we want to be effective allies and accomplices for and with Indigenous Peoples, we must be committed to understanding our position, recognizing our role, and taking action with and for Indigenous Peoples.
We encourage you to engage with this kind of self-reflection regularly because the role of an ally is continuous. It means always learning and unlearning. It requires the willingness to be critical of things we have been taught to accept as normal, both in society at large and in ourselves. And it requires us to continually show up, listen to, and stand with Indigenous communities until their inherent rights are recognized, respected and restored in relation to this place called Canada.