Reflecting on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, many of us, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples had the opportunity to consider what it means to be an ally – in particular, what allyship means, not just on these notable days, but as an everyday practice.
Sometimes it is helpful to start with what it is not.
Allyship is not a one-time identity you adopt, then walk away from. It is not a single action that you take, check off, then consider yourself to be a good ally. Allyship is something to practice everyday: it is the deepest kind of commitment, the kind that keeps shifting and evolving, with each learning unveiling a cascade of further lessons. It is not something to take lightly, nor is it something to shy away from. It is the people who you are an ally to who identify you as such. It is not a self-proclaimed title.
Speaking with Mary Laur, Acting Director, Indigenous Sharing and Learning Center, and Kevin Fitzmaurice, Truth and Reconciliation Coordinator, it becomes clear that there are myriad ways to be an ally at Laurentian University, but they all begin with the practices of humility and respect.
So, where does the journey to allyship at Laurentian start?
1. Entering Ethical Spaces of Respectful Listening and Learning
We have heard that our community members have an appetite and need for experiential learning. A good place to start this learning is by listening and being receptive to other experiences and ways of knowing. This includes acknowledging what you do not yet know. One of the most important things for non-Indigenous allies to know is that we need to listen and learn before jumping in to act. Mary explains that there is nothing wrong with wanting to act – and there are cases where this is the right thing to do – but we must recognize this impulse in ourselves and know when it is better to step back and listen to Indigenous community members to understand where our action and support is needed.
This imperative relates to Dr. Susan Manitowabi’s reflections on the Sacred Fires and how important it is for non-Indigenous people to spend time in these spaces when they are invited. Many people have not experienced spaces for respectful listening and reflection; as part of our journeys to allyship, engaging with these spaces can help us change the ways in which we think and act. Experiencing a Sacred Fire can teach non-Indigenous people about protocol, encourage deep reflection, and help root and connect us to place.
From that place of listening and reflection, you can begin to ask yourself questions about your inherent biases, cultural norms, and experiences of Indigenous cultures. When you are ready to seek guidance from Indigenous community members, ask for it without an expectation of a checklist to follow. When you sense there is a challenge or problem, ask yourself: “What can I do to help?”. When you identify an opening for your support, it is a good idea to find out what work is already happening and how to amplify it.
We do not need to start from scratch; Kevin explains that the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, established by the Laurentian University Native Education Council (LUNEC) in 2018, has done foundational work to guide our collective journey to allyship at Laurentian. The Task Force was created to identify priority actions for the university, in response to the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Actions, notably Outcome #21, which involves identifying strategies to move the university in the direction of reconciliation. With these calls to action before us, we can ground our journeys to allyship in the learning spaces that already exist at Laurentian, and ask ourselves: “How can we teach and learn in a way that builds community and transforms our society?”
2. Learning with, alongside, and in community
Mary and Kevin recognize the gravity of the calls to action, and at the same time, the incredible opportunity for non-Indigenous people to become part of a community of allies. This fall, Laurentian has launched a groundbreaking course: INDI-2525EL Bngishmok: Western Direction an Anishnaabemowin Land Based Immersion Course. The course offers Indigenous and non-Indigenous students the experience of learning on the land and in community. Mary explains that “the foundational part is that everyone comes together 24/7 over eight days – you don’t leave and there are no visitors. You have this time together. In a very real way, you are building a community of knowledge-sharing that is very close to the land, to the earth. In my experience, it really brings Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together in ways that are transformative.” These immersive courses are an opportunity to come together in ethical spaces as part of an engagement with Anishnaabe knowledge and experiential learning practices.
Kevin reflects that along with reconciliation, we must speak about redress, restitution, and renewal: “With this learning you need to check in regularly. You need to recognize that you are a part of a broader community and movement, a collective with the driving purpose to move reconciliation forward.” Change and evolution is not driven by individuals acting alone, it happens over time when non-Indigenous people listen in order to understand their roles as allies.
3. Being open to the discomfort of not knowing
Taking part in immersive courses and other Indigenous learnings often asks non-Indigenous people to be open to difficult conversations and discomfort. Mary notes that while these conversations can be uncomfortable, they can foster learning through the engagement of the heart and mind, allowing people to walk away with new understandings.
These conversations with Mary and Kevin reveal that what is good for reconciliation is beneficial for all society. Setting up pathways for respectful relationship building and engagement translates across all members of society so that we build kind and caring communities across our incredible diversity and fluidity. By reflecting and taking a wider view of our social locations at Laurentian, we can begin to enter diverse communities respectfully and with care. We can join those who are committed, in so many ways, to undoing our colonial systems and ways of living so that we can rebuild in reciprocity: with each other; with the land and water; with generations past, present, and for generations to come.
Recommendations and guidance
We invite you to read and reflect on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force’s recommendations and guidance to support your pathway to allyship.
We invite you to provide your thoughts and opinion on the Task Force’s recommendations, and how you are supporting the Calls to Action by filling out this survey.