How to be an authentic ally


Helping to build a true post-colonial community

If you are not Indigenous, but you care about Indigenous issues, it is often hard to know the best way to approach reconciliation. You want to be a part of the conversation, but you’re worried about stepping on toes. Or maybe you don’t know that much about the specifics, but you consider yourself a person with compassion and a drive for equality and justice. If you don’t know what you can do or if it will be effective, don’t let your uncertainty keep you from being an active voice and participant in meaningful reconciliation. It’s a complicated, nuanced, and ever-changing process, but here are some places to start.

  1. Do your research - If you’ve been immersed in the Canadian History bubble which starts the narrative in the sixteenth century, it’s time to do some research on the true history of this nation. Research the history that began way before the French arrived. Look into the different First Nation groups, their history, culture, and language. Learn about the differences and similarities between and within groups. Educate yourself on the colonial history of Canada too; what colonization really meant for Indigenous peoples, what residential schools really did, the implications of the Indian Act. All of that information is out there, and it’s your responsibility to find it.
  2. Never claim expertise -  Okay, so you’ve done the research, but guess what? You still have a lot of learning to do. It’s great that you’ve gotten a baseline of what colonization is and therefore why reconciliation is necessary, but ultimately you need to listen to Indigenous voices. Your newfound knowledge will be expanded upon, and become more and more valuable when you listen and learn from your Indigenous peers. And even when you think you know best, make sure you are always keeping respectful listening distance when Indigenous activists are trying to say their piece. They’ve been silenced long enough; it’s your responsibility to listen.
  3. Get involved - If you’re really authentically committed to reconciliation, there are many ways for you to get involved. Take a course on Indigenous issues (ANTH 234 or MIKM 105, for example), get involved with X-Project and attend the many events that take place on campus surrounding Indigenous culture and activism. X-Project, in particular, is a great way to continue to learn, grow, and create connections with Mi’kmaq youth. As a volunteer, you’ll go to a community once a week and help with homework, play games, and create connections with the youth. Keep an eye out for events and programs that are happening all the time and show up!
  4. Keep yourself accountable - We have all grown up in a society which systematically marginalizes Indigenous people, and we are therefore all capable and likely to have contributed to this system. A huge part in reconciliation is taking the time to recognize your own behaviours that might be harmful. It can be really hard to admit you’re part of the problem, and it’s likely you just didn’t know better. I get it; there are too many instances for me to count of all the times I said and did culturally insensitive and harmful things. So work harder, think more, and know better now.

Rethink stereotypes, challenge your biases, and pause before you speak. When you call something your “spirit animal”, think about how that concept holds extreme spiritual importance to some Indigenous groups, and how your casual usage might cheapen it. Think a little deeper about the historical weight of the word before you call someone “savage”. If someone, especially an Indigenous person, speaks up about something you said or did, listen to them before you put up your defenses. It’s not about blame and judgement, but about learning and growing to be more conscious, inclusive, and respectful. Once you’ve started learning to keep your own words and actions accountable, start the conversation with your friends and family too. Remind your friends why wearing a headdress isn’t an appropriate Halloween costume, and think twice before donning your Washington R*****ns jersey.

Reconciliation is a process that is going to take time, and it’s going to take a lot of work from each and every one of us. Colonialism is far from over, and it’s high time we all work together to consider how our own actions are perpetuating or deconstructing the inequalities and injustices against Indigenous peoples in our own country and community.