BY PEGI EYERS
To use the much-appropriated phrase "we are the ones we have been waiting for," today as members of the colonial project in the Americas we are waking up to the fact that we need to take responsibility for the toxic legacy of our own Ancestors. We did not personally perform the work of racism, white supremacy, slavery and genocide that built the nation-states of Canada and the USA, but we have the opportunity right now to do the work of Sacred Activism and right these wrongs. For if not our generation - who and when?
Here in Canada, Allyship and Solidarity are not superficial practices when we consider the most marginalized among us, the First Nations and original peoples of this beautiful land. Beyond the conventional definitions of “special interest group” or “multicultural mosaic” a wide diversity of First Nations have original bonds to the Earth that pre-date the arrival of our European ancestors by thousands of years. First Nations worldviews that revere and protect the Earth are still in place today, and by assisting them in their struggles for sovereignty, we are ensuring that precious watersheds, lands and ecosystems are protected for our entire Earth Community.
It may not register that the genocide and oppression directed at First Nations in the process of Empire-building has anything to do with us, but the exact same agenda is still happening today with land theft, resource extraction and assimilation. To their ultimate credit, First Nations have been resisting the juggernaut of Euro-colonization in both ideology and action for centuries now, and have engaged with the full restoration of their indigenous knowledge, heritage and cultural practices. Their new-found strength, solidarity and contemporary self- determination has given rise to community cohesion and grassroots activism, and through the Allyship Model, white people can now contribute our time and dedication to that struggle as well.
To understand our own colonial history and transform our relationships with First Nations, we need to face the inconvenient truth of our paradoxical past and shake off the complacency that comes with white privilege and power. As John Milloy says, “there are actually two Canada’s - aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canada.” Our struggle, as the descendants of the original Settler Society, is to shift from unconsciousness, racism, denial and guilt about our colonial legacy to the righteous anger of critical thinking and social justice action.
As we come to an authentic recognition of our shared history with First Nations and explore the myths and misconceptions we have had about each other, we become empowered to use our new-found awareness in building solidarity, and as a catalyst for change. There is much that we can do to eliminate institutional racism, and contribute as Allies to the anti-oppression, human rights and land claims struggles of our First Nations neighbours.
- Allyship and Solidarity in general starts with self-education on racism, white privilege, allyship and First Nations issues, mobilizing (which is showing up for rallies and actions), followed by long-term organizing in the community that can lead to successful coalitions.
- Join your local activist community. Protests, marches, rallies, demonstrations, disruptions, civil disobedience, and all types of creative rebellion have the potential to create social change. Get to know the history and current challenges of the indigenous community closest to you, and take direction from that community as to what you can do as an Ally.
- Select your battle(s). To affect political reform and social change we must have an active participation in politics. Work with the political process to change the archaic legislation affecting indigenous peoples, such as land claims, treaty denial, resource theft, or the gender discrimination inherent in the Indian Act. Initiate petitions, call, write and pressure your MP, cabinet members or the Prime Minister; write letters to the editors of major newspapers; and lobby and form outreach groups to mobilize at the local, regional or national level. Make inroads in your own community to fulfill all 94 Recommendations of the Truth & Reconciliation Summary. Align with social protests and movements and practice an engaged civic activism – speak up and act! Don’t be complicit with the status quo by your silence or inactivity. Forms of social media offer spontaneity in actions and patterns of political activism.
- When a First Nations person in your community asks for assistance in person, through an organization or on social media, respond! Debating the issues, agreeing “in theory,” or indulging in some kind of casual exchange with those who have experienced oppression all their lives highlights your privilege, and is demeaning to the First Nations person. When dialogue is happening, the last thing you want to do is assume that “everyone is on the same page.” Learn humility, listen, and be willing to get “hands-on” with the real needs of the First Nations person or group.
- Offer your skills as a volunteer for any number of pressing issues, projects, organizations or grassroots movements. Assist non-native or native-led wellness, social justice, or environmental NPO/NGO organizations that benefit indigenous communities with your time, resources and/or money.
- Do practical things in your community to assist marginalized First Nations who are homeless and require care and protection. For the needs of the shelter, contribute funds, volunteer, raise money for food and other necessities of life, donate clothing, recruit local businesses for sponsorship, stand up for the civil rights of the homeless, and help create ways and means for their empowerment and new direction in life.
- If you are a teacher in the mainstream school system, don’t teach the master narrative or the dominant view of history; teach history from the point of view of the oppressed. Educating children and youth is the first step toward transforming our society to one that is free of the intersectional oppressions and based on principles of equity. Lobbying to make anti-racist training and white privilege studies mandatory in the education system would be an excellent use of your time.
- Educate others! Talk to other white people about racism, white privilege, historical truth and the third world conditions that exist in Canada. Northern First Nations live in disgraceful ghetto-like (de facto apartheid) conditions because of racism perpetuated by white Canadians, and it is white Canadians who need to reverse this hegemony.
- Come to the defense of First Nations - speak out and act (!) whenever you see appropriation, stereotypes, offensive fashion accessories, dehumanizing mascots, stupid jokes or racist statements that are directed toward native people. Do this independently, and on principle. It is not necessary to inform a First Nations person every time you speak out on their behalf, but it is necessary to take responsibility for the battle.
First Nations in Canada remind us that this country was founded on a treaty relationship between two (or more) sovereign nations for the benefit of all, and the original meaning of the first declarations of the Canadian nation-state confirm that “We are all Treaty People.” Yet, “indigenous people in Canada are literally some of the most legislated people in the world.” We need to confront the Canadian authorities en masse to express our outrage at the disgraceful treatment of First Nations, and to protest the government refusal to honor treaty rights. And all those who are working to convert Ottawa-centric decision-making into a true working partnership should have our full support.
Our solidarity as allies has the potential to build bridges and renew relationships between native and non-native people, communities and nations. Whether we are approaching anti-racism as a new direction or have been working as a change agent for years, there is no shortage of tools for the Sacred Activist to make amends, and actively serve the needs of indigenous community. Entrenched racism and archaic laws benefiting imperialism, corporations and industry are blocking change, and First Nations need our help now more than ever.
Quotations in Order of Appearance:
1. Erroneously attributed to “Hopi Elders” by New Agers, "we are the ones we have been waiting for," is originally from a 1978 poem by civil rights activist June Jordan, which was recently popularized by Alice Walker in her book We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness, The New Press, 2006.
2. John Milloy, Historian & Professor, Department of Indigenous Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, ON, National Day of Prayer, Honour the Apology, Peterborough, July 25, 2013
3. Cheyanne Turions, “Reflecting on Couchiching: Some Thoughts on what it Means to Navigate,” Cheyanne Turions, (blog)
This article originally appeared in the monthly webzine One Thousand Trees, February 2015. What could be more "sacred" than taking responsibility for healing the fractured relationship between the Settler Society and Turtle Island First Nations?