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Indigenous Allyship is about relationships


salmon by Don Skillen
“Salmon” by Don Skillen, Métis Artist 4. Change.

“Mitakuye Oyasin. All my relations.” Lakota Nation.

We need to return to the original relationships. That’s the repeated message heard at a recent Waterloo forum hosted by Faith & the Common Good, Divest Waterloo, the Green Awakening Network and a number of other groups concerning climate justice and what Indigenous allyship would mean.

These relationships involve taking care of Mother Earth in tandem with revisiting the cordial, peaceful beginnings of our settlers and first peoples’ interactions.

When keynote Indigenous Traditional Counselor, Elder Myeengun Henry talked about the settlers coming to Turtle Island, he referred to a relationship that degenerated with the “Indian Problem” and the violent treatment and murder of first people in Residential schools at the hands of settlers. It degenerated when settlers felt their access to resources like gold was being impeded by these first inhabitants.

“What hasn’t changed is the “Indians” are still in the way of economic development—so treaties are not being upheld, in spite of Canada recently embracing the UN Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Elder Henry said. Pipeline 9—travelling from Montreal to Sarnia—runs through his Nation (Chippewas of the Thames).  “Oil leaves devastation. The tars sands flow right under the Thames River, posing imminent danger to water and food.” Elder Henry emphasized that Canada must live up to the constitution; first peoples have to have veto power within their traditional territories. This is a requirement of allyship moving forward. The land has to be returned. To be an ally then means to honour those initial relationships and treaties and show up and support efforts such as the Chippewa of the Thames’ hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada on November 30th 2016.

What does it mean to act on behalf of Mother Earth?

Panelist Sherri Longboat (Six Nations of the Grand River), continued on the theme of the original relationship—referring to the indigenous concept of two journeys or rivers of life where the Haudenosaunee would travel on the river of life in their canoe, and our settlers would go on their boat. “We are all treaty people under the wampum,” Longboat said. What we need to honour is the Natural Law. Longboat explained the “Dish with one spoon” concept that is embedded in this principal, that there is one dish of resources and to take care of that dish and take enough for others, we will not harm others. “We need to heed the intent and spirit of these practices and foundational elements. These are the original instructions for how we are to relate to the natural world thought that sacred knowledge.”

Allyship: Not a given.

But “allyship is not a given,” panelist Kelly Laurila (drum keeper of Mino Ode Kwewak N’Gamowak) told listeners. “Just because you want it, doesn’t mean you can get it.”

According to Laurila, it’s the settler’s way to want to fix things and move onto something else. “Reconciliation is about creating something authentic. Allyship takes time.” What’s more, “Colonization is coming right in the room with you. Listen observer, listen and listen again.”

Laurila warned that there is a lot of pain in allyship: “That’s the teacher. If it is too comfortable, then I don’t know if allyship is happening. Reconciliation means we have to give up our comfortable spots. It’s an ongoing process over our lifetime and beyond.” The positivity and good will that filled the room, were anchored in a spiritual truth that offered hope for reconciliation, relation by relation, all working together to heal land, water and soul.

Be a better ally.

Allyship is built on relationship. Examine your relationship with history, learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and how you can support it. It is up to treaty people to familiarize ourselves with the lands we are sitting on. If we are going to get serious about allyship, we are going to need to understand cultural and environmental racism and injustices. Why is it okay, as Chemical Valley Sarnia land-defender, Lindsay Gray asked, that 63 refineries surround her tiny community of the Aamjiwnaange Nation? “Everything is polluted. We can’t plant gardens, we can’t live of the land, and we can’t use the medicines properly. Pollution is going within us, trespassing, eliminating us.”

Leah Gazan (Wood Mountain Lakota Nation), founder of #WeCare aimed at ending violence against Indigenous women and girls had this to say: “Every time you are given something, you must always give something back. We are all responsible for each other, for all life.” Taking responsibility for each other is a requirement of allyship.

Note: Thanks for the support of the Justice & Reconciliation Fund of the United Church of Canada towards this forum.

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