My Journey of Allyship
- Jaime Le Roy | July 25, 2021
Walking into my Grade 10 Socials class this past spring, I was expecting to pick up a textbook and start learning about the trials of World War I and how it helped shape our identity as hard-working Canadians. The first thing out of my teacher’s mouth changed my expectations in a hurry.
“Canada uses its squeaky-clean reputation to hide its dark and difficult past, a past which scars and torments the first peoples of this land,” was the first thing my teacher, Mike Gosselin, said.
At first, I was perplexed by his words. Maybe a little defensive. Isn’t Canada a peaceful nation? Aren’t we celebrated for saying ‘eh’ while drinking our Tim’s coffee and playing pond hockey on our pet Moose?
While those things are arguably true, there is simply more to the story. A lot more.
With our teacher’s help, my classmates and I were able to break away from these stereotypes and the illusion of a “perfect Canada.” We had the opportunity to view our nation’s history through Indigenous eyes.
We achieved this by throwing away the history textbook. Instead, we studied Indigenous media, stories, articles, music, artwork, and documentaries. We tore apart the Indian Act, learned about Treaties and followed the timeline of the systemically racist policies that helped found and shape this country.
One film, “It Had to Be Done” by Tessa Denomie, had a lasting impact on me. Told by two remarkable Indigenous women, who not only survived the horrors of residential school, but who, as adults, made the decision to return to the school and improve its living conditions for the next generation of Indigenous youth.
Upon concluding this film, a sense of helplessness washed over me. I was greatly disturbed by the Canadian government’s actions and the intergenerational trauma it set in motion. I wanted to offer support to residential school survivors and Indigenous communities. I wanted to get involved but I didn’t see how one non-Indigenous girl could make a difference.
This past May, the revelation of 215 children found buried at the Kamloops Residential School further pushed my need to do something. How could we let this happen? What am I personally going to do to help?
I didn’t exactly have all the answers and Gosselin didn’t either.
“If I told you what I thought the answers were, then you wouldn’t learn anything,” he said.
So, I conducted some research, talked to Indigenous members in my community, and discovered the term allyship. Allies are defined as individuals who advocate for targeted people or groups being oppressed in society. Their role involves dismantling stereotypes, prejudices, and acts of oppression.
In order to become an ally, I thought I had to make a big statement or do something that caught attention. My perspective changed when Gosselin introduced my class to the Medicine Wheel. The four quadrants of this sacred hoop reflect Indigenous culture and values, teaching the importance of appreciating the interrelatedness of our world. It shows us that we are all connected, we are all human, and we all have the power to change the world.
The Medicine Wheel became my guide. It allowed me self-reflection and the ability to realize I don’t have to do anything big. It’s the small things I can do in my day-to-day interactions as an ally to Indigenous communities.
I can further educate myself on Indigenous traditions, customs, and significant events, strive to form meaningful relationships with Indigenous people in my community, and do my best to understand by simply listening and observing.
“Allies are agents of change because they aren’t afraid to step out of their comfort zone, take part in conversations, and ask questions. They understand that change takes time, that patience is key, and that being an ally isn’t an identity but a life-long process of learning and striving to do better,” Gosselin said.
So, with an open mind and heart, I will choose to support Indigenous communities. I will choose to inspire change through patience, listening and understanding. I choose to be an effective ally because that, in my mind, is what any non-Indigenous person living on Turtle Island should do.