A Newcomer Perspective on Indigenous Allyship

June 21 is National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, to acknowledge the histories and celebrate the beautiful and diverse cultures of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis. This year’s theme is storytelling. Oral history is a vital part of Indigenous cultures as it has been one of the main ways of preserving identity, language, and tradition.

I recognize the land I currently inhabit as Turtle Island, which has been occupied and taken care of for thousands of years by various Indigenous groups. I am a newcomer, a settler on Turtle Island. Though my ancestors did not settle by choice, in a way I have always been a settler. I was born in Xaymaca, a Taino word meaning “land of wood and water”. This is now called Jamaica. The Caribbean curriculum covers much of our Indigenous history and heritage. For example, I’ve always known that Europeans, Africans, and Asians were not the first inhabitants of the islands. Much of the food, language, and traditions I grew up with are still heavily influenced by The Taino people (Arawaks).

Their history of genocide is devastatingly similar to Indigenous groups on Turtle Island. Though their contributions and history are largely preserved and taught, the popular belief in Jamaica is that these groups were completely decimated by European contact, with only very small groups remaining in places such as Puerto Rico and Surinam. This belief is increasingly being challenged.

Relocating to Canada was a huge learning and unlearning experience. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that not only did Indigenous people survive a genocide, they managed to preserve and maintain their culture, traditions, and identity despite all attempts to erase it. I’ve learned about the unique history in Canada after first contact and have been fortunate to experience different parts of Indigenous cultures such as sacred gatherings, ceremonies, and storytelling. I’ve learned that many Canadians are not taught the true history of Canada. And many don’t know what to do once they learn about it. I’m not sure I would have learned all of this if I didn’t study at a Canadian university, and make efforts to learn more on my own.

What became very clear to me over my time here, is that the genocide is ongoing. Indigenous peoples are still fighting the Canadian government and various industries to have their land and treaty rights respected. They are often neglected with many communities having no access to clean water or adequate infrastructure. They are vastly overrepresented in Canadian prisons. Family separation and forced adoptions have taken over where residential schools have left off. The trauma and effect of residential schools have left deep wounds. And yet the stereotypes around Indigenous communities still remain extremely negative.

Calls to Action 93 and 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission focus on doing a better job of educating newcomers, including:

  • to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.
  • to replace the Oath of Citizenship to include being faithful to Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.

As a newcomer to Canada, a first step in being an ally is to educate ourselves on the history and current day realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. As I start my journey to become a Canadian citizen, I hope that by the time I take my oath as a citizen, there will be much more robust education and training opportunities for newcomers to learn about not only history, but the ongoing ways that Canada continues to harm Indigenous people.