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How to Be an Indigenous Ally

It is very likely that you have heard the word “ally” used in a variety of contexts in recent years. An ally is someone who advocates for and actively works against the oppression or harm of a specific group of people.

But, being an ally also means looking out for, advocating for, and lifting up marginalized groups of people and communities, even if you do not belong to those communities. Most importantly, being an ally means that you are willing to accept and act upon the moral responsibility of defending and uplifting people who do not always have the ability to defend themselves or who have been historically overlooked or underrepresented.

It’s a big responsibility, but one that has a powerful place in our current world and society. While being an ally begins with something as simple as leading with love, kindness, and empathy toward all people, there are also specific things you can do to be a better ally and to take concrete actions that work toward the common interests of these groups of people.

One such group is Indigenous people. Indigenous people have been historically oppressed, displaced, and marginalized in a way that continues to pervade modern society. One of the best ways YOU can participate in creating a better, more inclusive world is by being an ally to groups like these. Allies play an important role in bringing awareness, understanding, and empathy to communities and it is through that awareness and understanding that we can begin to unravel generations of prejudices, oppression, and violence against marginalized communities like Indigenous peoples.

This is heavy stuff, and we understand that it can be difficult to get started! It might feel easier or safer not to try at all than to fully educate yourself about what it means to be an ally and risk making mistakes along the way. But, trust us when we say it is better to try than do nothing at all; it is better to act for the greater good than to let others do the hard work for you.

INDIGENOUS People, NATIVE American, Aboriginal…(What is the correct name?)

How to Approach Being an Ally

Being an ally begins with your mindset. Approach being an ally with these three guiding principles in mind.

1) Respect

Respect is critical when trying to understand any culture that is not your own. Recognize, acknowledge, and respect that we all come from different backgrounds, faiths, and belief systems and that is what makes the world so beautiful and diverse.
When you first begin your journey toward becoming an Indigenous ally, you might not have much cultural knowledge yet. That’s okay! It’s important to understand that you are an outsider, and your experiences are going to be different and unique from the experiences of Indigenous people. You should strive to understand and respect Indigenous culture, but also respect and accept the boundaries and experiences that separate you from this group of people. Ultimately, if you approach your allyship journey with respect, you’ll have a greater capacity to understand and appreciate the culture you are engaging with.

Cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation

2) Clear Intentions

It is important to determine your intentions for being an ally. What is your motivation or reason for wanting to be an ally? What makes you want to be one? What are your commitments?
Your intentions should come from a place of respect, understanding, and support. Perhaps you work in a field in which you would like to see Indigenous people more regularly represented or supported. Perhaps you have Indigenous friends or family you would like to be more engaged with and respectful of. These intentions all come from a place of understanding and respect, not of wanting to be performative or perceived as an ally for popularity or appeal.

Did you know that intention setting is an important part of Indigenous culture? Clear intentions
help us focus our thoughts, attract positive energy, and can even be a useful tool when smudging. By setting your intentions, you are already beginning to learn about Indigenous culture in a positive and respectful way!

Is Smudging Cultural Appropriation?

3) Gratitude

As an ally, it is pivotal to understand that Indigenous peoples, communities, groups, or
organizations you may be working with are under no obligation to do the hard work of teaching you about historical trauma, cultural awareness, and Indigenous knowledge. You are a guest who is fortunate to have an opportunity to learn about and support these communities. You should navigate being an ally with as much grace and gratitude as you possibly can.

 

What an Ally Should Learn

Once you have established your mindset, it is time to become an open, authentic, and engaged student. Being an ally is about listening and learning. The people you are supporting have something to teach you and it is your responsibility to listen to them.

1) History

There is a dark and painful history surrounding Indigenous peoples that is incredibly important for allies to learn about. It is difficult, but essential. This is the only way to understand how the past continues to impact the future.

How to Talk about Indigenous People of Canada

2) Land

In order to be an Indigenous ally, you must learn about the land you reside on and recognize that it is land that has been stolen from Indigenous peoples. Treaties, land, and territory is one of the most important facets of knowledge you can learn about when trying to be an ally. Land holds an important and sacred place in Indigenous culture and is pivotal to understanding the history of Indigenous peoples and their values.

Connecting with Indigenous Culture (Land Based)

3) Indigenous Worldviews

It is important to understand that traditional Indigenous worldviews and Westernized worldviews are vastly different from each other. Understanding what makes them different and how Western views have altered or disrupted traditional Indigenous teachings is paramount to being an Indigenous ally. Indigenous people have very different views of the world, culture, and systems of beliefs and teachings than the Western world. Take the time to learn about it.

 

How an Ally Can Support Indigenous People and Communities

If you’re ready to take action, here’s what you can do.

1) Educate

Educate yourself AND those around you. Take classes or workshops about Indigenous culture, teachings, and practices. If you are in a leadership position in your company or organization, organize training that educates and generates awareness about these topics. Watch videos that instruct you about Indigenous culture. Seek out information directly from Indigenous sources and spread awareness about what you learn.

Teaching Indigenous Culture to Children

2) Get Involved in the Community

Many Indigenous communities run events and fundraisers that are great ways to learn more, meet new people, and experience the culture for yourself. Do research about ways you might get involved with your local organizations, such as volunteering opportunities or attending events where you can be a respectful observer or participant. Donate to Indigenous communities and organizations if you
are able.

3) Support Artists

Supporting Indigenous creators and artists is one of the best ways to be an ally. By supporting Indigenous artists — from authors, musicians, painters, poets, to cooks, and beadworkers, basket weavers, jewelry makers, to clothing designers — you are supporting them and encouraging them to continue doing this meaningful work. Indigenous artists have faced tremendous barriers in their respective industries, and it is vitally important that you support them where you can.

Remember that being an ally is a responsibility, not an obligation. The only way to truly be an ally is to acknowledge your own privilege and use it to support and uplift Indigenous communities. Though allyship begins with kindness, empathy, and understanding, being a true ally involves hard work, dedication, and genuine respect for the community you are supporting. By engaging with this work, you are acknowledging past failures and helping to shape a better, brighter future — one that respects, acknowledges, and cherishes Indigenous communities.

Here is a great way to learn how to celebrate Indigenous Culture for Indigenous Peoples Day today – How to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day

 

Mallory Graham

Blog by Mallory Graham, Tribal Trade

Tribal Trade‘s mission is to connect tribal people, being indigenous or non-indigenous, as they continue to learn and celebrate their connection to their heritage

Check out Tribal Trade’s YouTube Channel for more great informative videos!