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What Can Non-Indigenous People Do to be Better Allies

Last week, the remains of 215 Indigenous children were found at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. It has been said that there are an estimated 6000 children who died in the residential school system. I felt many emotions hearing this news. Devastation. Outrage. And quite lost. What can I be doing to be a better ally? The phrase “a dark chapter in Canada’s history” has been passed around when it comes to residential schools. But chapters end. This story is far from over. The problem is, many people don’t know about this story. While it is beginning to make its way into school curriculums more and more, it is not common knowledge.  

There’s a type of trauma that lives in your bones, it’s called “intergenerational trauma.” Indigenous families carry the residential school trauma with them. Their family members were forced to attend. Many were verbally, physically and sexually abused. Others were killed or went missing. Indigenous cultural practices and traditions were taken away, being lost to future generations. Everyone’s experience was different, but what they all had in common is that they were forcibly removed from their family, from their home, as young children.  

As a non-Indigenous white person, what can I be doing beyond sharing a social media post? Where can I begin unlearning some of the histories taught to me and start educating myself on the truth? Who can I turn to? Where can I donate to make a change? Maybe you’re having these thoughts, too. 

There is a lot to do, and I believe it is up to the individual to read, watch, listen and learn from Indigenous stories and voices. This is where I’ve begun. I will update this blog post as I learn more. I also encourage you to comment with any resources you have found helpful.  

Before you begin, know that this is extremely heavy. Make sure you are in a safe headspace when you access these resources.  

Listen to and watch their stories.  

  • The feature film Indian Horse, which is based on the book by Richard Wagamese, details the horrors children experienced in residential school. You can learn more about it here 
  • Hear stories directly from survivors here in this challenge from residential school survivor, Edna Manitowabi 
  • A short documentary called Inendi from Sarain Fox, documents her visits and conversations with the oldest Matriarch in her family, Mary Bell. Mary Bell attended residential school. She talks about her experience there and how she has continued her Indigenous traditions. You can watch it here. 

Read their stories. 

  • Augie Merasty went to residential school. He documented his experiences in a horrific memoir called The Education of Augie Merasty. His resilience comes through in his reclamation of culture, his warmth and his humour.  
  • A Knock on the Door is called “The Essential History of Residential Schools” and it comes directly from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The book’s foreword is from residential school survivor, Phil Fontaine 

Learn their names. 

Wear orange. 

  • Orange Shirt Day honours Indigenous children who went to residential school. The day was inspired by Phyllis Webstad, who went to residential school in a new orange shirt. It was taken from her on her first day, along with her culture, her family and her home. The orange shirt symbolizes a reclamation and a way to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people and residential school survivors. Although the day normally falls on September 30th, many folks, including British Columbia-based teachers, are showing their support by wearing orange on May 31st, after this horrific news broke last week. You can learn more about Orange Shirt Day here.   

Support those in your circle. 

  • As a non-Indigenous person, I will never know what it’s like to experience any of this, but I can offer support and a listening ear. Be an ally, a shoulder and a support for your Indigenous friends.  
  • If they need help or someone to talk to with expertise, there is a crisis line they can call at 1-800-721-0066.  
  • There is also a line from former students that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-925-4419.  

Donate to survivors. 

We have to keep learning, educating and understanding. This can’t be swept under the rug any longer. This list will be updated as I learn more.

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