Being an Ally

Allyship is the active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group.


The above definitions come from The Anti-Oppression Network and the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network.


An ally disrupts oppressive spaces by educating others on the realities and histories of marginalized peoples.


An accomplice works within a system and "directly challenges institutionalized/systemic racism, colonization, and white supremacy by blocking or impeding racist people, policies, or structures.


Being a co-resistor is about standing together, as an ensemble, in resistance against oppressive forces and requires constant learning. It is combining theory and practice by establishing relationships and being deeply involved within a community that informs how one listens critically, understands an issue and influences the way they go about disrupting oppressive institutions and systemic systems.

[Miishiken at the Four Directions Expo]

What does an ally look like?

"Ally" is not a self-proclaimed title. Indigenous peoples may identify you as an ally. The goal is not to be labelled an ally, the goal is to develop meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples.

An ally is someone who is willing to learn, question and reflect. Learning about Indigenous peoples, policies and history helps people understand what happened and is still happening today.

Truth is important in relationship building, so myth busting is a great way to foster understanding and compassion. For example, did you know that First Nations peoples have the highest abstinence rates of any group in Canada? Yet, the myth of the drunken Indian continues. In medicine, did you know that Indigenous people invented aspirin? By not citing Indigenous contributions to science, medicine, political science and psychology, Indigenous knowledge and people are excluded and erased. Being an ally not only embeds Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum, but also cites it.

Sometimes people don’t understand how policies such as the Indian Act or Residential Schools were designed to eliminate Indigenous peoples or continue to harm. They don’t question what it would feel like if it happened to them or their family members.

When people don’t have certain experiences, they don’t realize that could be because of privilege; if it didn’t happen to me, I don’t see it, I don’t know that it exists.

Or they assign one experience they’ve had to an entire group of people forgetting the diversity that exists within individuals. As humans, we sometimes don’t remember the everyday encounters, just the really bad ones. An ally humanizes and empathizes, letting go of assumptions. Most importantly, once an ally realizes or sees, they advocate for change while recognizing their own place and space.

Recognizing Yourself as a Settler

Another barrier that prevents peoples from being effective allies is their unwillingness to consider themselves as settlers. Many Canadians feel strongly about their family's history and struggle to build a life in these "new" lands. Where their pride is understandable, they need to ask themselves: "At whose expense did my family create a life here in [what we now call] Canada?" It also needs to be considered that Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island since time immemorial and anyone who has come since are seen as settlers in their eyes.

There is also discourse around what it means as a recent immigrant to Canada and to recognize yourself as a settler.

It's Not the Job of Indigenous People to Educate You

Too often non-Indigenous peoples on campus become impatient with Indigenous staff, students, and faculty because everyone is trying to push the Reconciliation agenda. This is frustrating as an Indigenous person because those Indigenous peoples don't even need to be helping you in the first place. Indigenous peoples understand that to move forward, we need to be involved but too often this comes with little given back in return.

"I came here to get an education, not to give one."

Jason Mercredi (Law '18)

Reciprocity is Key!

The key to meaningful relationships with Indigenous peoples is the same for any relationship: reciprocity. If you are asking an Indigenous person to relive their own trauma so that you can have a panelist, what are you giving them in return?

Tokenism: Alive and Well at Queen’s

Indigenous peoples at Queen's are asked to attend more events than most even know are taking place on campus. We are asked to do "Openings", land acknowledgements, drumming, to facilitate the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, etc.

  • Reconciliation is more than just a buzzword.
  • We are not just another check on the equity list.
  • Give us a seat at the table.

The “White Savior Complex”

"White Savior Complex" is achieved when someone white chooses to help someone who is not white in a self-serving manner i.e. for praise or recognition of their good deed. 

  • Can happen with any non-Indigenous group
  • It is important to understand why Indigenous communities are hesitant to open their doors to representatives from institutions
  • Invitation-based advocacy – you cannot go in and assert your role as an ally
  • There is a difference between “how can I help” and “here’s what I think you need”

In Meetings and Classrooms

Watch how much space you take up when having conversations about Indigenous affairs.

  • Remember: we know what is best for us
  • Balance: don’t take up too much space, but know that sometimes Indigenous peoples are exhausted from having the same conversations over and over
  • Acknowledge your positionality: “I am speaking as a non-Indigenous person” or “I am speaking as a settler”

Why Am I Doing This?

  • Well, everyone else is doing it so I better…
  • Do I need to increase funding chances or meet a quota?

You are not being an ally if you are doing it to fulfill your own self interest. Whether it be for a pat on the back, something to put on your resume, to get ahead in your career, etc.

Being an ally is about working with the people who experience systemic injustice to help them fight for equal rights. It is about using your privilege to uplift the voices of others, NOT to use your voice to steal the show.

Before you start to reach out, you need to ask yourself "why am I doing this" and you need to be honest with your answer.

Download and Share

Nia:wen to Lauren Winkler, Law'20, for sharing her "How to be an Ally" toolkit with us. Much of the content on this page comes directly from the toolkit.

  How to be an Ally Toolkit (PDF 1 MB)


  • The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
  • Settler: Identity and Colonialism in 21 Century Canada by Emma Battel Lowman and Adam J. Baker
  • 23 Things Not to Say or Do by Indigenous Corporate Training Inc.
  • 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Joseph
  • Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice by Kent Roach
  • The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Manuel


* resources used to inform the How to be an Ally Toolkit