When I think about what I can do to support Indigenous peoples, not only in my community but Canada wide, I can think of numerous ideas. One great way is to shop local; I know you all see those pretty dream catchers online, but remember: education is key. Educate yourself on what dream catchers are, where they should be placed, and buy from an Indigenous artist. Indigenous people believe that good and bad dreams fill the air at night and the dream catchers can catch the bad dreams while letting the good dreams flow. Everyone loves a cute pair of moccasins, but educate yourself. Why are they important, what important ceremonies do Indigenous peoples wear their moccasins to? Buy from an Indigenous artist. Coming across beautiful songs, beadwork, ceremonies, the ever-popular smudging. Again, educate yourself. Why are these things important? Support Indigenous peoples by educating yourself, check your biases and look past the stereotypes we see oh so often. Get familiar with the movement Idle No More – what are they fighting for? Who is fighting? Why are these issues important not only to them but to you as well?
I’ll admit that growing up, I very rarely heard any positives regarding Indigenous peoples – and my own stepfather was Indigenous. So, when you become older and start to think for yourself, you soon realize what things may or may not have been appropriate. I then married into an Indigenous family and soon learned of their ceremonies and sacred beliefs. At first, my own biases would show up and I would not understand why anyone thought that the issues occurring between the Indigenous and white populations were “my” fault. I did not know what white privilege even was at that point, assuming that every issue was possibly concerning me in some way. Failing to realize that it was not about me at all, but the bigger picture of colonialism and racism within our society. Things I would not have known growing up in a very white, conservative area where Indigenous issues are not high on the agenda.
Education is the key to becoming a true ally to our Indigenous friends. Without checking our privileges and biases, it is impossible to ever truly begin to understand the impact of the trauma they face, as caused by governments and residential schools. Buying local and handmade is great, but we must go beyond that and understand the “why,” whether that is when you are shopping or see a rally happening.
I asked my brother-in-law one day while I was pondering over a social work assignment what white people can do to help Indigenous peoples. His answer was simply to talk to them, listen to them, and hear their words and stories. What they carry is generations of wisdom, knowledge, and pain, and we can learn from the mistakes of those before us to move forward as allies. A great first step is to remember what you post to social media, and ask yourself if it could be offensive in any way to Indigenous peoples. The posts I see most often perpetuate the stereotype that Indigenous peoples get “free stuff” like healthcare and schooling, when in reality this is far from the truth. Refrain from posting those things and educate whenever possible when you see those types of posts circulating.
You can always attend rallies and pow wows too! You do not need to be Indigenous and pow wows are quite fun. From traditional foods to art, songs, and dances, they are a great and friendly way to educate yourself and become more familiar with Indigenous culture, which in turn helps the ignorance that has been so ingrained within us from society’s racist views.
My last suggestion is that while you are in University, if you have a spare credit, take a social work or women’s/gender studies class relating to Indigenous people. There are so many great classes that go more in depth on the impact from residential schools and genocides faced by Indigenous communities. Opening yourself up to more information, documentaries, and stories, is a perfect way to educate yourselves.