by Kai Minosh
At any given time, activists in North America are working on an unfathomable number of ways to fight oppression. Yet too often in non-Indigenous activist spaces, the original people of this land are sidelined or forgotten entirely. Thankfully, more and more non-Indigenous activists are becoming aware of Indigenous people, our colonization, and our resistance to that colonization. Still, it’s difficult to know where to jump into supporting Indigenous people as an activist. To help those still in the infancy of their journey to being an ally to Indigenous people, I suggest the following steps:
1. Educate yourself and others
Most of the education system in the U.S. and Canada does an abysmal job educating students about Indigenous people. Unless you have made a concerted effort to educate yourself, chances are that you have some inaccurate or stereotyped misconceptions about Indigenous people and our history. The first step to supporting us is to educate yourself.
Start by learning about the area where you live. Who lived there before colonization? What happened to them? How was the land you live on appropriated by the settler state? Find out about Indigenous people who live in your area today—remembering that over half of Indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada now live in urban areas. If there truly is no Indigenous presence near you, find out what historical processes led to that (removal, warfare, and relocation are some starting points).
Educate yourself as well about the larger history of what happened to Indigenous people in North America and what life is like for us today. This includes everything from the real history of Thanksgiving and its legacy to the effects of boarding and residential schools to the modern-day removal of Indigenous children from their homes. You should take care to look everywhere for Indigenous resistance—our story is not just one of tragedy and victimhood but also one in which we have agency.
Once you’ve educated yourself, use your new knowledge to educate other non-Indigenous people about what you’ve learned. It is important to take care not to speak over Indigenous people, but you can encourage others to listen to Indigenous voices and to educate themselves as well.
2. Center Indigenous people
Doing activism in the Americas means you are working on Indigenous land. No matter what your history before you or your ancestors arrived here—recognizing that not all came here by choice—you nonetheless now have a stake in the welfare of this land and as a result, in its original people. When I say you must center Indigenous people, I do not mean that everything needs to be about Indigenous people all the time and never anybody else. What I do mean is that people who consider themselves activists should recognize the ways Indigenous people affect and are affected by your activism. Above all, challenge the invisibility and marginalization of Indigenous people in activist communities.
One simple way to start centering Indigenous people is to acknowledge publically the original people of the land where you are standing. Announcing this, such as at a public event, forces people to recognize Indigenous people, even for just a second. It shows respect for the original people and makes listeners aware of colonization as an active force in North America. A more powerful way to center Indigenous people is to place Indigenous voices and concerns at the core of your activism. To start with, this means listening to Indigenous people and becoming aware of what some of our issues are, and then considering how your activist work can further Indigenous goals. Ideally, it also means Indigenous people taking leadership positions. Look for us where you might not have noticed us before—Indigenous people have been activists against colonization and its accompanying ills for 500 years and counting.
3. Support Indigenous struggles
My final suggestion for activists wishing to support Indigenous people is to lend your efforts to our struggles. As I write this, thousands of Indigenous people and allies have gathered together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux and potentially of millions of others living along the Missouri River. Struggles like these are exactly the sort of thing that non-Indigenous activists should be aiding in whatever ways they can. Whether in the form of donations, monetary or otherwise, or of your own time and labor, there are many ways to support the ongoing resistance of Indigenous people. These forms of resistance are going on constantly. Activists simply need to pay attention and make the effort to find them.
As you educate yourself and make connections with local Indigenous communities, take note of issues that are important to them in this moment, and ask how you can contribute. As you do this, it is essential that you remember to center those you are supporting, and not step in where unwanted or call too much attention yourself. These are delicate balances that can only be managed through building sustained relationships with Indigenous people.
Ultimately, supporting Indigenous people means recognizing the connections that bind us together, whether you call it treaty or kinship or solidarity. When we see each other through the lens of those relationships, we also see the need to fight for one another in each other’s battles, as well as to care for one another.
On a street corner in Toronto, the #OgimaaMikana project has placed a sign that reads in English and Nishnaabemwin, “If you want to learn something, you must first learn this.” This refers to the wampum belt displayed on the sign, known as the Dish with One Spoon. The wampum belt, which commemorates a treaty ending decades of warfare between the Haudenosaunee and Algonquian peoples in the Great Lakes region, carries the teaching with it that all of us living together in this land are eating from the same dish, with the same spoon. It reminds us of our connections with one another, and our individual responsibility to preserve the common dish and spoon for all of us.
In this spirit, I ask activists wishing to be allies to Indigenous people to first learn this: to build genuine relationships with Indigenous people that center our concerns and boost our voices. It is through these relationships that we will learn to protect our one dish and spoon together.
Want more from Kai? Read their work in BGD’s newest collection, The Solidarity Struggle: How People of Color Succeed and Fail At Showing Up For Each Other In the Fight For Freedom.
Kai Minosh is a Métis two-spirit living in the homelands of the Dakota people. They are a writer of fiction and nonfiction, an indigenous language advocate, and a disabled geek who is currently wrestling with the beast that is academia. In their work and their free time, Kai likes to dream about creating indigenous futures, building connections among oppressed peoples, and imagining worlds beyond this one.