Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Problematizing "Allies for Reconciliation": an incomplete thought

As with the entire relationship: one world, different worldviews.

Witnessed a panel presentation yesterday titled "Allies for Reconciliation" and it made me very angry.  I don't know if it was the nature of the panel which appeared to me to be several non-Native people who seemed self-satisfied and smug about how they were helping the Native, or if it was that the ideas of reconciliation and "allies" were not addressed.  Forget for a moment that how a non-Native person can be an ally, when by definition they are a member of the society that needs to achieve reconciliation with the Indigenous nations, is inexplicable. The very idea  implied in the title is that we, as Indigenous people need reconciliation and not the Canadian dominion which we live under.  The name, which is also on the BC Teachers' Federation t-shirts available for the upcoming Truth & Reconciliation event, was defended to me as BC teachers were allies in First Nations efforts towards reconciliation.  In this, I was annoyed as teachers, in their ongoing support of the western teaching traditions, are still complicit in maintaining the status quo that keeps us under the thumb of oppression (I am aware that I am in this federation and a teacher who has to abide by the rules of the education ministry and their curricular focus).

The nature of the panel was also defended to me as a means for non-Native activists to be brought on board by seeing themselves reflected and to see that it was safe for them to also be an "ally."  The understanding of the term "ally" is lost here and continues to be.  You should be working towards reconciliation, not because you wish to be supportive  of Indigenous peoples, you should be working towards reconciliation because you are a part of the need for it, just like Indigenous people and just like Canadians as well.

One of the definitions of reconcile, according to the Miriam-Webster online dictionary, is: " to cause to submit to or accept something unpleasant." The nature of Allies for Reconciliation feels like this.  I tried to make my feelings known to the organizers and I did make it known to members of the BCTF Executive. I can't tell who is being asked to submit. We, as teachers? We, as Indigenous people? I have submitted to the unpleasant existence of being Indigenous my entire life and I am not keen to continue if that is what we are viewing as reconciliation.  That we feel the need to label non-Natives as allies tells me we are submitting yet again to the unpleasant fact that they do not view themselves as needing reconciliation with us but we need to reconcile with them.

Another definition of reconcile is: "to restore to friendship." This is problematic in light of the relationship definition as Indigenous and allies. It implies that our relationship is more unequal than usual and the restoration will return it to its normal unequal standard: marginalized and ally. "We're helping them." There is no recognition of the need to recognize your own privilege  in the continued oppression of Indigenous people. There is no recognition of the fact that you are blaming the victim in our unequal relationship. You are telling me that you will help me reconcile with Canada as if it is my fault that I haven't gotten over the Doctrine of Discovery, residential schools, institutionalized racism and the fact that, in the ongoing fight to save Canada and the middle class from total corporate takeover, you have further marginalized me in my own struggle. I shouldn't have to fight to prove my people were here at the time of first contact to claim my rights. I shouldn't have to prove that residential schools and colonialism has had a detrimental and ongoing affect on my family and my people.  I shouldn't have to constantly prove that my teaching degree is a "real" degree as opposed to an "Aboriginal" one. Often you use my name to move your cause forward and that is fair in as much as they are often the same, but you remove yourself from the struggles that are uniquely mine, declare yourself an ally and then deafen me with silence.

Much like the entire education system, we need to reframe what we are trying to achieve and who the participants are. None of us are allies in reconciliation as there only the two sides in this particular endeavour.  We need to change the words we are using because we don't have a mutual understanding of what we are trying to say. We are obscuring the truth by our choice of actions and words. Until we understand, explicitly, what our relationship is and what we want it to be, stop saying ally. Until we understand what we are trying to achieve, stop saying reconciliation because that is not what is happening right now.

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