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Be an Indigenous accomplice, not an ally

by Fern Clair November 19, 2019
Be an Indigenous accomplice, not an ally

Understanding the best practices of Indigenous solidarity, the impacts it can have, and the role the media plays.

The Concordia Centre for Gender Advocacy hosted a workshop on Nov. 6, focusing on better ways to be an Indigenous ally, which involve breaking the rules of Canada’s colonial system and respecting Indigenous leadership, as Indigenous people are the ones most affected by colonization.

The workshop was called Indigenous Solidarity Best Practices, and it was presented by Iako’tsi:rareh Amanda Lickers. She is Seneca, an Indigenous nation that is historically part of the Iroquois League.

“The most radical allyship would be giving back the land,” said Lickers. “Move from being sympathetic to doing something. Be useful, interrupt the colonial narrative and push back against colonial social norms.”

Lickers believes one of the ways to support Indigenous people is to donate a yearly amount of money – small or large – to Indigenous organizations and communities. She frames it as a kind of rent, as non-Indigenous people are able to live and create families in Canada because of Indigenous displacement.

She used the phrase, ‘accomplices, not allies,’ which is the name of an online zine that focuses on removing the ally complex, which refers to people that wish to ‘save’ marginalized people, or use them to advance their own goals. The zine calls for people to be accomplices instead of allies, to actively disobey colonial structures in support of marginalized groups.

Lickers says the best way for people to understand how colonization affects day-to-day life is education. People need to be active in learning about how colonization came to be and to use sources that are corroborated by Indigenous groups.

“Media can shape public opinion, it can shape popular education,” said Lickers, explaining the important role traditional media plays in influencing public belief; that media prioritizes certain voices over others, and it selects what parts to tell. There are few stories of thriving Indigenous people.

“If it bleeds it leads,” said Lickers, explaining that violence attracts readers, and mainstream media picks stories that fall into their editorial narrative. “There are certain types of reporting that glamorize poverty and violence, but it doesn’t discuss the everyday racism that Indigenous people face.”

Marisela Amador is a non-Indigenous alumnus from the Concordia journalism program. Now Amador works at the Eastern Door, a newspaper that reports on the Kahnawake Indigenous community, on the south shore of Montreal.

Amador agrees with Lickers’ view that mainstream media exploits Indigenous issues.

“White media comes here and it sensationalizes everything, and it shows a perspective that is not accurate,” said Amador. “Once the media have gotten what they need, that’s it, they leave.”

Amador explained that the Kahnawake community does not feel like ‘white’ media is an ally and that it is a common thing for people in Kahnawake to feel alienated.

“It’s not that people here don’t want to talk,” said Amador. “It’s just that nothing good comes from it.”

Amador feels like the strict deadlines and word counts mean important background information on Indigenous issues is left out in mainstream media, leading people to be misinformed.

She wishes that there would be more time and room to fit information when she’s reporting, but because of tight deadlines, Amador just has to do her best.

Amador believes the best way to have more Indigenous content in mainstream media is to have more Indigenous reporters.

Samantha Stevens is a non-Indigenous Concordia student doing her masters on the ‘white saviour trope’ in newspaper coverage on Indigenous issues. She noticed in her research that mainstream media has improved from blatant racism, but this has now been replaced with a more subtle form of racism.

These forms of racism include how media usually portrays Indigenous people as poor, and Stevens noticed that when Indigenous people are jobless, it is common for the media to refer to them as being on welfare.

“Quotes are a huge problem. The same person is quoted all the time,” said Stevens, explaining that this enforces stereotypes that all Indigenous people have the same issues, and leaves out other voices in the community.

She believes most journalists don’t even notice what they are doing, as it is so ingrained in Canadian culture. According to Stevens, the only way to see more accurate reporting is for non-Indigenous writers to make space for Indigenous people to tell their own reality and stories.

Lickers believes that non-Indigenous reporters need to support Indigenous voices in the media, to facilitate and collaborate in a way that gives visibility to Indigenous reporters.

“Honestly, I think we are going to have to change the style of news if we want more Indigenous representation,” Lickers said.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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