Moving from performative to accomplice...
Lee Maracle, "I would accept an apology from someone if they stepped on my foot, but not if they were still standing on my F@*%ing foot."
This quote has me thinking about allyship and what it looks like. The question I get asked the most in my work is, “What can I do?” People are thinking, what can one person do to change what is happening in our larger system. I believe as educators we should be asking ourselves, what can I do to make sure the next generation is knowledgeable about the racist system we live in, so that they can change it.
There are always things you can do to support and help others in changing the system. Some things are small and most likely won’t help the system change. Other things will take hard work and challenge you to do better and those around you to do better. That is what will make changes in our system happen. Dwayne Donald reminds us that the process of decolonization is a shared endeavour. One we must all do together if we are going to be able to see true change in the system (2009).
Donald’s quote also has me thinking about the different ways in which people are trying to take up this work. There are many different things people are doing, but what does it mean for real effective change? We know that learning about Indigenous history and education is something that is new to many educators. This is because of the western colonial education system not educating us about Indigenous peoples and history. In today’s education system in BC, it is now mandatory to educate about this land, the peoples of this land and the colonial history of this land. It is now our job as educators to be picking up the work. There are many ways to pick up this work and know that this is a journey in relearning and educating yourself about this knowledge. In what follows are ways that I see people starting to pick up this work. I unpack the different locations of the work and where it is within the context of creating real change within the systems we are in today. Everyone enters this work in different locations and that is okay. The point is not to stay at that location, the point is to keep learning.
Performative allyship- This is what I see as someone who would like to step into this work but is not yet at the understandings of what is being asked of them and needed of them to be doing this work for change. Some examples of this are: posting on your social media- “I live on stolen land”. With nothing more said, this is performative. To make this more impactful for change, you can say I live on stolen lands and follow it up with inviting others to find out the stolen land they live on or even asking or educating others on why it is stolen land. This creates the space for educating others, calling people in and up to the work, and showing that you understand the importance of your comment and what you are doing to create the change needed for the Indigenous peoples land you live on.
Another example is: planting a garden of orange tulips. This could be a great learning opportunity but without signs in the garden that tell us why the garden was planted. With no reflection of the learning about the Residential school system somewhere where others can see and learn from, no signage of names of survivors, no place for further learning for the people that see the garden, this again is performative. Including the stories and places for further learning is key, if these are not there within the garden, it is just telling us that you can plant a beautiful garden.
Extraction allyship- This is someone who would like to step into the work but is not really comfortable yet with how the work is done. This kind of allyship in educational spaces looks like educators wanting to include stories and teaching about Indigenous people but expecting Indigenous people to do all the work for them. An example of this is: A teacher saying, I would really like my class to learn about making Bannock, can you please find me an Indigenous person to come and teach it to my class. It can also look like asking Indigenous educators to find you lesson plans so you can teach something about Indigenous culture. Also expecting all Indigenous educators to be the expert in what is okay to use and not okay to use without doing any research yourself. It can also look like asking Indigenous educators to give you a list of things you can do in your classroom. This is a location in the work that is not a place where you would see change in the system happening. This kind of work puts an overloaded amount of work on Indigenous educators and Indigenous peoples to educate everyone about everything Indigenous. This is an unrealistic ask of Indigenous educators and a main reason why Indigenous educators get burned out.
Growing and learning- This is someone that is curious and wanting to learn more about Indigenous peoples, history and knowledge. This is an educator that is starting to understand that this is a process and it is time to take the responsibility themselves, to really learn about this land and the peoples of this land. At this stage educators are taking every opportunity to learn more. They are reading books and asking questions on where they can go to learn more information. They are seeking out support from Indigenous people but not solely relying on them to do all the work. Educators are realising at this stage that this work is not the work of Indigenous peoples to give you and teach you everything. Educators are taking on the responsibility of doing the learning themselves through books, podcast, news stories, movies, TV shows and many other places. This is the beginning stage of becoming a true ally. This stage is the beginning, the middle, and always circling back to stage. The work in education is in constant motion and is constantly evolving and shifting, so we must always be curious and be willing to learn and grow.
Allyship- Educators at this stage have taken a great deal of time to learn about the Indigenous peoples of this land and the history of this land. They fully understand that it is not the work of Indigenous peoples to educate them. They have taken on the personal responsibility to learn on their own through Pro D’s, podcasts, books, documentaries and movies about Indigenous peoples. Allyship also includes following Indigenous peoples on social media to help understand the current day issues and the lives of Indigenous peoples in this place now known as Canada. Allyship means you have connections and relationships with Indigenous educators to run ideas by, not ask them to create things for you, but to help guide your work. Working alongside Indigenous educators in the work, supporting others in the work, and knowing where and when it is time to use your voice to help and support.
Being an accomplice- This is very similar to being an ally but being an accomplice takes a great deal of time. It takes understanding and you are constantly doing self-reflection about your own positionality in the places and spaces you are in. This comes with knowing the power imbalances and calling them up/out when they are happening. Using your place of power to support the voices in the room that have been historically silenced. Being an accomplice, you would take up the work in teaching about Indigenous topics because you know how difficult it is for Indigenous people to always be teaching about these topics. You have personally taken on this work because you have taken so much of your time to learn this history, understand systemic racism, and you know that it is your responsibility as a non-Indigenous person to know and do this work. An accomplice is someone who is always learning more, asking more questions, and always taking it upon themselves to do better in the spaces they are in. Knowing that in education, the narrative is always shifting and it will always be a learning journey, not a destination.
As you can see through these stages, this work can be complicated. This writing is asking you to step into the work where ever you are at and keep in motion. Keep pushing yourself to know more, do more, and reflect more. The intersections of these stages are where the stages connect to each other. I see them as circles, always circling back to points, and moving from one point to the next point in a circular motion. There is no destination within these stages, there is no final spot where you can say, okay I am done this learning, now on to the next thing. This is a process of continual learning, growing, and circling back to where you were before in order to see where you are heading to now. Once you step into the work, always keep in motion, always look to see for ways to learn, connect, and grow.
My hope from this writing today is that you the reader can see that this is a journey and your journey is always in motion, just like education. Step into the circles of this work and don’t be afraid, just keep learning.