In celebration of National Indigenous Peoples Day, we asked Regina-based mutual aid organizer Kale Maclellan to offer her perspective about how non-profit organizations can more meaningfully support Indigenous people and communities. We’re honoured that Kale accepted our invitation and provided these five items for us to reflect on and encourage non-profit organizations to implement.
This list is far from comprehensive but it is intended to provide suggestions that take relatively little effort to implement. It is not my intention to speak for all Indigenous people. I truly believe the best way to ensure your organization is Indigenous friendly is to seek guidance from the Indigenous people around you.
RECOGNIZE THE VALUE OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE GETTING PRESSURE TO PUNISH THEM.
Indigenous people, and other racialized folks, have always been held to an extremely high standard. We are hyperaware of this, and it can make speaking truth to power difficult. We are expected to remain composed, respectful, and “nice”, even in the face of brutal attacks. We are always expected to let these things slide, no matter how dehumanizing or ruthless the attacks are. But like everyone else, we have a breaking point. We will make mistakes, hold space for that. We will make people angry, hold space for that too. It is very likely that someone in your organization will anger someone, whether it’s online, or in person and they will feel the need to force organizations and employers to act or punish them. Think critically about this: Does this line up with what you know about this person? How is this behaviour harmful and who is it harming? Is there any merit to these complaints? It seems obvious, but having a discussion should always be the first step in situations like these.
CHALLENGE THE HOMOGENIZATION OF ALL INDIGENOUS-RELATED MOVEMENTS, ACTIVITIES AND SYMBOLS.
For some reason, any and all Indigenous movements get entangled with the orange shirt day movement. The orange shirt symbol was created by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor who had her new orange shirt taken from her on her first day at the school. While I’m sure wearing an orange shirt is done to show Indigenous people support and solidarity, it is also a reminder of residential schools and what was taken from us. It isn’t appropriate to wear it to every event that has an Indigenous focus, like community feasts or pow wows. If you need a piece of clothing to show you are an ally to Indigenous people, then you probably aren’t doing the work needed to truly be an ally.
And for the love of Creator, stop reusing stock images of Indigenous symbols, like teepees, or head dresses. I have seen countless organizations use Salish or Inuit art on the prairies as a way to seem inviting to Indigenous people, even though this art is not relevant to the original inhabitants of certain regions.
CONSIDER ALL KINDS OF FAMILIES, AND THE EXPANSIVE WAYS THAT INDIGENOUS PEOPLE GRIEVE AND MOURN OUR KIN.
2021 was coined the year of the graves. For the first time, there was attention paid to unmarked graves at former residential schools. While this was long overdue, it was also a reminder of the genocide of Indigenous people in so-called Canada. We couldn’t escape the news coverage. We couldn’t mourn in private over the loss of our babies. We were expected to perform our normal duties and more, while grappling with the loss of hundreds of children. While these unearthings may have happened thousands of kilometers away, we all feel it in visceral ways. Allowing time and space for indigenous people to grieve is the compassionate thing to do. Especially after announcements of this magnitude.
Offer optional, paid bereavement leave. Structure your bereavement leave policy in a way that respects other kinds of families. Losing a cousin is no less traumatic and painful than losing a sibling. There are cultural protocols that require absence for more than a day or two, be willing and open to accommodating these leaves easily.
PUT AN END TO TOKENIZATION, AND ALLOCATE FUNDS FOR COMPREHENSIVE CONSULTATIONS WITH INDIGENOUS COMMUNITY MEMBERS.
Please, stop coming to us to approve messaging or policies regarding Indigenous folks. One single person cannot speak for all Indigenous people, nor should they be expected to. Seek out opinions and articles online and elsewhere, chances are another organization has worked through similar issues, there is no shame in learning respectfully from other communities. If you find yourself in a situation where you are regularly seeking guidance from Indigenous people, consider allocating funds for consultations wth Indigenous leaders and community members. Don’t assume that indigenous people in your organization will be willing to sit on a diversity or equity committee, especially when the positions are voluntary.
RESPOND, WITHOUT DEFENSIVENESS, TO CRITICISM AND CHALLENGES FROM INDIGENOUS PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION.
Believe us. It is exhausting living in a world that was not built for us. While it is cliche, many of us truly do walk in two worlds. We create masks and code switch multiple times a day. We have had to learn from an early age how to manipulate ourselves to fit inside these systems. When Indigenous people from your organization come to you with a complaint or critique, listen to them the first time. The decision to bring an issue forward likely wasn’t an easy one, especially with power imbalances present. If a complaint or issue is brought forward, offer space for employees or participants to voice their opinion, but don’t expect them to educate you on why something is harmful or inappropriate. Take it upon yourself to find information surrounding the complaint and find a solution that makes employees feel they are being heard and respected.
Kale Maclellan is a Cree, St’at’imc, Saulteaux mom who is fiercely dedicated to liberation for all our relatives everywhere.
Kale lives and grows with community in oskana kâ-asastêki (Regina, SK) where she invests time into mutual aid and community care that make the world a better place.