The Time for Active Allyship

We are living through a time of reflection and questioning, as we witness the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II this week and also the important narrative around the complex and violent history of the monarchy, and the damaging, intergenerational impacts of colonization. Indigenous people are calling for the new King to denounce the Doctrine of Discovery. The work of reconciliation, includes examining the challenging parts of the past, while envisioning a different future, one that creates and honours right relations with Indigenous people.

The word “allyship” is one you’ve likely heard a lot in the past few years, and you might be familiar with its meaning. You have also heard that ANYONE with power and privilege can be an ally to those with less power. But do you know how to enact allyship in your personal and professional life?

Equity-seeking individuals and communities (such as Black, Indigenous, 2SLGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities) encounter difficult and dehumanizing situations almost daily. It can further the harm if no one responds or notices the situation. It can be a source of comfort and support to have someone else act as an ally, offering support and advocacy. What does it really mean to be an ally? It means committing to an ACTIVE and CONSISTENT practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, using your influence to support and advocate for equity and inclusion.

Being an ally doesn’t always mean rallying or protesting. It can mean responding to biased words or ideas or checking in when you witness discrimination. A key part of allyship is consent, ensuring that the person you might support wants you to intervene or react.

There are two distinct kinds of allyship: reactive and proactive. We can react and respond to bias or disrespectful remarks when we see them happen. This is REACTIVE allyship. For example, if you are at work and overhear a co-worker question an Indigenous employee’s identity. One way of supporting that colleague is by stepping in and saying, “I don’t think that’s an appropriate question to ask, let’s focus on…” It is important to check in with your Indigenous colleague afterward to see how they are doing, and how you might further support them.

We can also be PROACTIVE and make efforts to increase inclusion and equity within our workplaces. For example, you notice your organization doing more outreach to equity-seeking communities, but the board is composed of all white employees. One way to be an ally is to advocate for the need to partner with equity-seeking groups to ensure their perspectives are considered, and the need to diversify the board by paying honorariums for equity-seeking members. Employees from equity-seeking groups should also be asked for input, without a need to commit to doing the work.

As we approach The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30th, we can look for ways to enact allyship as settler Canadians. Noticing reactive and proactive cues is a first step in identifying when to support or use your influence as an ally. As an Indigenous ally there are various ways to honour the day.

Educate Yourself- Be intentional and take time to learn, find resources, donate, and listen. For example, Horizons Community Development is offering Stepping Up: A Learning Journey for Settler Canadians course this fall and winter, both in-person and online.

Share with others- Take the time to share an educational article with your coworkers, find meaningful ways of teaching your children about residential schools, gather your family and friends and watch a documentary or attend a ceremony near you. This list of resources from Laurentian University is a great start.

Support Indigenous-led initiatives- Orange Shirt Day is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters”.  The orange shirt is a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom, and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.