Many people are aware of the importance of being a critical thinker when it comes to understanding and addressing oppressive societal structures. In addition, many people are also aware of the need for social justice workers to support Indigenous people in their desire to live well. Regardless, awareness is not enough.
When serving Indigenous people it is important to serve local Indigenous people and allow them the right to define the help that they need. While many people are aware of this in a theoretical sense, at the level of practice this is another thing entirely.
Many organizations that claim to be doing Indigenous allyship, Indigenous solidarity, or Indigenous reconciliation work are not allowing local Indigenous people to define and direct the movement forward. This of course is problematic.
Indigenous people are in a difficult situation, in particular women, children, and persons with disabilities. Through colonial policy, internalized oppression, and lateral violence, so-called leaders are about to extinguish land rights, patriarchs (both men and women) are undermining women, and women are harming women. The short story is that the critical thinkers are being undermined and targeted from many directions. This is the nature of oppression.
As members of an organization that is claiming to do ally, solidarity, and reconciliation work it is your responsibility to hear the voices and needs of the most oppressed, especially the voices who carry a critical understanding and as such are targets of undermining practices and discourses. In the event that you opt not to do this, and carry on with what you think needs to be done, is simply not good enough. Who Indigenous people are and what our needs are is so much more than a job for others, a title for others, a degree for others, a research project for others, or an industry for others. Indigenous people need genuine help as they define it to be, not how you define it to be.
Thank you for valuing this open letter.
Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.