It’s National Indigenous Peoples Day. Here’s how to be an ally

Published 2021-06-21 03:00

‘It's about being a good friend or neighbour to someone,’ says expert


During the past few weeks, I’ve seen so much hurt in the headlines of news stories.

From the loss of 215 children at a former residential school, to new goals to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, the news can feel overwhelming.

My friends and even some teachers have been approaching me, wondering what they can do to help.

I’ve been getting lots of questions like, “How are you feeling?” and, “What can I do?”

People have also been asking me how they can be allies to Indigenous people.

That got me thinking: What are allies, anyway?

To be honest, I haven’t always been sure how to answer, and after getting so many of these questions, I decided I needed to know more.

So I spoke to two experts to ask them what an ally means, what allies do and how we can all be better allies to Indigenous people.

Watch the video here or keep reading for the highlights:

What is an ally?

With a simple Google search, the Merriam-Webster dictionary told me that the term ally means: “One that is associated with another as a helper, or a person or group that provides assistance and support in an ongoing effort, activity, or struggle.”


That just left me feeling more confused. Was there a simpler way of putting it?

Larissa Crawford, an Afro-Indigenous activist and educator from Calgary, Alberta, defines “ally” not as a word, but as an action.

“It’s something we do,” she said.

For Crawford, being an ally to someone means acting when you see an injustice.

Larissa Crawford said that you need to expect that you will make mistakes as a new ally. The key is to ‘lean into the mistakes and we learn from them.’ (Image credit: Larissa Crawford/Future Ancestor Services)

"It's about being a good friend or neighbour to someone," said Cindy Blackstock, an Indigenous educator, activist and community leader.

So where do you start?

The first task as an ally is to listen and learn about what is going on in our world and what is affecting our friends, said Blackstock.

“Our job [as allies] is to learn more about that injustice, even if it doesn't affect us,” she said.

Cindy Blackstock said being an ally is ‘hard work,’ but that showing you are an ally says, ‘You don't have to face this alone. We are with you.’ (Image credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Injustice can look like unfair treatment of a person based on their race, religion, sexuality and more.

According to Blackstock, justice looks like the opposite of unfair treatment.

Justice is respecting people’s rights, honouring people’s individuality, and celebrating people for who they are, she said.

How can you be an ally?

When situations are challenging and tough, most people want to make sure they are doing the right thing.

But sometimes it can be hard to know exactly how to help other people.

Crawford described allyship as being many different things, such as:

Student allies outside of a Scarborough, Ontario, school wear their orange shirts in support of Indigenous communities. One student holds up a map of residential schools in Canada, the other holds up a book about the topic.  (Image credit: Martin Trainor/CBC)

According to Blackstock, allyship starts with making sure no one is left behind or ignored.

“That means that we all need to look out for one another. It doesn't work if some of us get that [help] and others are left behind,” she said.

To be an ally to Indigenous people, Blackstock said you have to learn, listen and challenge yourself.

Learn about residential schools, listen to their survivors and challenge others and our government to “honour and celebrate” Indigenous cultures in Canada, she said.

Does being an ally make a difference?

Growing up, Crawford never told her friends that she was Indigenous.


Because of a lack of allies.

National Indigenous Peoples Day takes place every year in Canada on June 21. It’s a day to celebrate Indigenous culture, traditions and to reflect on history. Pictured here are Indigenous youth dancing in jingle dresses at a powwow at Piapot First Nation in southern Saskatchewan. (Image credit: Bryan Eneas/CBC News)

“I didn't tell my friends I was Indigenous when I was in school, because I heard all of the awful things they would say about Indigenous people, not knowing that I was Indigenous,” she said.

She said people around her didn’t stand up for others, didn’t listen and didn’t learn.

It wasn’t “safe enough” for her to be herself, she said.

Allies can help make the world a safer place to be our true selves, and it doesn’t come at a high price.

Being an ally to others makes a “huge difference,” said Blackstock, and it “doesn't cost you anything.”

TOP IMAGE CREDIT: Graphic design by Philip Street/CBC

About the Contributor

Isabel DeRoy-Olson
Isabel DeRoy-Olson
CBC Kids News Contributor
Isabel DeRoy-Olson is a Grade 12 student and lives in North Vancouver on Tsleil Waututh territory. She is a citizen of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation from the Yukon territory and Annishabe from Manitoba. Isabel is passionate about acting and dancing and loves to learn more about Indigenous identity, gender and social justice. She is excited about the opportunity to start these conversations and more with kids across Canada.

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