How to Become an Indigenous Ally

The Two Row Wampum Treaty, also known as Guswenta or Kaswentha, may best
be understood as a Haudenosaunee term embodying the ongoing negotiation of their
relationship to European colonizers and their descendants. The underlying concept of
kaswentha emphasizes the distinct identity of the two peoples and a mutual engagement
to coexist in peace without interference in the affairs of the other.  

The Two Row Belt, as it is commonly known, depicts the kaswentha relationship in visual form via a long beaded belt of white wampum with two parallel lines of purple wampum along its length. The lines
symbolize a separate-but-equal relationship between two entities based on mutual benefit
and mutual respect for each party’s inherent freedom of movement – neither side may
attempt to "steer" the vessel of the other as it travels along its own, self-determined path.
As Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) People, The Two Row Wampum Treaty
is a symbol of our understanding of the relationship between our people and those of
European descent. This treaty identifies that we are to treat each other with peace,
respect, and friendship. Each are to stay within their own canoe. Yes, we can visit each
other, but we are to return to our respective canoes, to our respective ways. This defines
many relationships such as Nation to Nation, Government to Territories, person to person.
In their wisdom, our ancestors saw the possible dangers of allowing others to invade and
steer our canoe. As Indigenous children are discovered in forgotten or hidden mass
graves located at many Indian Residential Schools throughout the Country, the tragic
consequences of being forced to allow others to steer our Canoe are very clear. This
article is written by four Haudenosaunee Service Providers from the Six Nations of the
Grand River Territory who are trainers in Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) Level
One and VTRA from an Indigenous Perspective.
As Indigenous communities grieve the losses of all those innocent and helpless children
and babies who did not make it home, we take this time to mourn our losses and pray for
peace for our babies, our families and our Nations. We know this is just the beginning
and more children will be found as more grounds of residential schools are examined.
We brace ourselves for the numbers yet to come. We have heard the stories of our family
members who attended those institutions. We were listening! We have heard them share
what they witnessed and how they wondered what became of their friends who were no
longer seen at the schools. We believed them! We are reminded just how lucky we are
that our own family members returned home, but know how easily they too could have
died in those institutions. They returned home traumatized and broken. Many grew to
cope with their institutionalized lived experiences with alcohol and drugs, unable to
connect to themselves, let alone others. They were small, vulnerable, and trusting
children who were tormented, beaten, abused and yes, many died. Children are not
strong enough to survive prison-like practices and institutions.
As Indigenous peoples, if it feels like we have lost our own babies or grandbabies, it is
because we have. Those are our babies, our children, regardless of where they lived or
what nation they belonged to. They were wanted and they were loved. They were stolen,
kidnapped, and trafficked to work in those institutions - child labour in the name of
education. People ask why did their parents let them go? We know the answer. Our
canoe was hijacked. When we tried to fight, our men were killed, jailed and threatened.
They created laws and systems to erode our rights, our power and our voice. In their
quest to “civilize the savages”, (Duncan Campbell Scott) they did the unthinkable! They
took away our children! They stole them if they found them. If one parent died, they
knocked on the door and took the children as a form of child welfare. They kidnapped
them if they found them walking on the road, coming home from school. They promised
they would be cared for and taught a better way of life free from poverty and hardship.
Many children never returned home.
We take back the ownership of our canoe because, truth be told, we never gave it up!
Neither the church nor the state is welcome to invade our canoe. We are fully capable of
making our own decisions and determining our own paths forward. We are proud of who
we are, of our strength and resiliency. Our language and culture are so very precious and
sacred to us. As we look across the water, we see the outrage from your canoe, from
Canadians. We see your shock and dismay as you discover a truth our people have
known for generations. We see your inner struggle as you witness evidence of Canada’s
attempt at cultural genocide. We thank you for standing up and saying that this is a
national tragedy! These are crimes against humanity! This is unacceptable! One thing
we agree upon regardless of which canoe we are in, our babies, our children need to be
We invite you to stand beside us! We appreciate your compassion and love for our
children. We need our Indigenous allies now more than ever! For those of you who are
wondering what you can do to become an Indigenous Ally, we present this list from our
Actions needed for effective Indigenous Allyship:
1) Walk beside us, not in front of us!
2) Make space for our voice! Hear our voices!
3) Make space for our ideas!
4) Honour our Expert Knowledge! We have the answers!
5) Keep an open mind and believe our Lived Experiences!
6) Value Indigenous Knowledge Holders of all ages.
7) Accept the impacts of the multigenerational transmission of trauma that continues
to exist today! We have been talking about this for years!
8) Really, really listen - Listen as if you were a “heart with ears.” We are not needing
you to problem solve for us.
9) Don’t be sorry, unless you have something to be sorry about…if you do then take
responsibility for your actions!
10) Say something when faced with racism. To do nothing is condoning racism.
11) Educate yourself and others in the spirit of de-colonization.
12) Find oppressive and colonized systems in your work or school and make
change. If Indigenous people are not there at all, problems exist within that
system. If Indigenous people are there in abundance (i.e., prisons and Child
Welfare) problems exist within that system
13) Develop connections, partnerships and network with Indigenous organizations.
Do site visits with your Indigenous Partners. Reach out to them!
14) Resist tokenism! One (1) Indigenous person should not and cannot be expected
to speak on all Indigenous issues.
15) Continue to have these difficult conversations within your circles!
16) Understand that each Nation may have similarities however, not all are the
same. Educate yourself on the Nation(s) in your area
17) Re-structure Hiring Practices that value Indigenous Knowledge and Lived
18) Take Action! There is always something you can do! What are you willing to do
to make change in this world?
• Enlist a Traditional Knowledge Holder to do a Traditional Opening and Closing
for your event; OR,
• Do a Land Acknowledgement at the start of each meeting. Be sure you are
properly acknowledging the correct Indigenous Nation(s) of the territory.
Include the following statement, “The land was often intended to be ‘leased’ to
the settlers, but instead was ‘sold’ as land with full title. There are very few legal
sales of Indigenous land, most of which was never paid to the Indigenous
people of the territory.”
• Research other documents on allyship with Indigenous people.
• Hire Indigenous peoples to educate your workplace / school on Indigenous
topics from your nearest Indigenous Community. Value their time and energy!
• Implement the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action into your workplace!
• Implement the MMIWG Calls to Justice as released by the MMIWG National
Inquiry Report into your workplace.
• Create policies that are compassionate to Indigenous Experiences.
From a VTRA perspective, generations of trauma, oppression and colonization by the
hands of the church and the state creates the potential for violent consequences and
justification by generations of people who have been targeted for hundreds of years. We
refuse to say the colonization and oppressive practices of residential schools are a part
of Canada’s history because we know these practices and policies are deeply embedded
in most Canadian systems today. Therefore, we call upon you, across the water, in your
own canoe, to implement change within any and all systems you belong to. This is how
we will create lasting change, by strengthening the roots so the “tree of peace” can grow
tall, strong and proud.
Sandra Montour, Executive Director, Julie Bomberry, Manager of Therapeutic Services,
Alana McDonald, Manager of Residential Services, Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support
Services and Brody Thomas, Team Manager – Mental Health and Addiction Services, Six
Nations Health Services. We acknowledge Kevin Cameron who is not only an Indigenous
Ally, but a good friend! Niawen:kowa! (Big thank you!)