A Letter to Allies: When is an Ally Not an Ally?
By Jen Meunier. Reposted with her permission. She is an Algonquin Anishinaabe woman, Bazwenazhi clan through her community, Kichesipirini
This is about the youth occupation of the old police station on Six Nations, specifically, the role of allies in supporting it. I want to speak some of my thoughts from what I’ve experienced and share the decisions I’ve made. I’m only speaking for myself, although I’ve talked to the people I have close relationships with who live on Six Nations about saying this. I’m asking Creator lets these words be heard with open ears, minds and hearts so that we can see each other as we really are and in peace, friendship and mutual respect.
I was one of the organizers of this police station occupation and was there when the idea was first raised at my house in Brantford. I planned and executed the banner drop, packed the truck with the supplies needed for occupying and put in ashes from the second “people’s” fire at Site 41.
It was originally planned to break into the police station at the end of the “march for a youth centre”. Right before the march, serious concerns were raised by some of the Six Nations people who had been part of the original planning of the march/occupation. I took these concerns seriously because as an Anishinaabe ally, my place is on the Younger Brothers bench and my voice comes second to those whose territory I live on and whom I trust to make decisions about their community and what should and shouldn’t happen. Also, I agreed in my own mind about the concerns that were raised and they reflected what was in my heart.
The sharing of these concerns was not taken in the same way and the march/occupation began with hurt feeling, hostility and bad energy which resulted in divisions and splits which happened in the first few days of the occupation as the same patterns kept re-occuring. Medicine people from Six Nations and outside communities advised that the sacred fire was not being kept in a good way and should go out. There have been numerous splits on several levels over this occupation and it makes my heart heavy to think about what damage has been caused: families split, friendships broken, councils divided.
Something has gone very wrong and this may not be visible from the outside perspective and if it is being seen by allies, there must be confusion and hesitation to support something which folks sense feels different than the land defense struggles (like the reclamation) or squats they are used to.
We have been told to listen to our “gut instinct”, by an elder and clanmother we respect, and that will protect us. I have stayed away from this occupation because my “gut instinct” tells me that’s what needed. I have (hopefully not ‘had’) close, loving friendships with the present organizers who are running the occupation. This has split people apart who are like family to me. But my presence as an ally, even a native ally, is only going to cause interference in a community I don’t belong to.
Our people (Algonquin and Haudenoshonee) have interrelated histories that are older than the existence of western civilization and stretches back into ancestry that exists now as dust on the ground. Colonial power forced us into positions of enmity and mutual bloodshed—we only signed a peace treaty between our nations ten years ago. When I was graduating high school, we were still at war with each other.
Our relationships with each other are weighted with this blood memory, and the knowledge that as young people, as women, and as decolonized people, our peace, respect and friendship is a hand held across divides that have been between us for generations. I say this so you know where my thoughts are coming from so they can be understood.
This is an extremely sensitive issue: it is not a land defense struggle or a blockade (which non-native allies seem to feel most comfortable supporting) and it’s not really a squat. If it is neither of these, then it doesn’t make sense to relate to them like they were. This is a struggle to establish services, resources and a youth centre for children and youth on Six Nations and that is a completely internal issue. As communities and nations, we are responsible for our children and youth—who, until they turn 18, are as much under the power and control of the state as political prisoners. They can be taken away and we have no control over them in custody and often must bend our backs to the laws of a colonial, genocidal state in order to get them out of its grip. Post-G20, many white and middle class activists and their families and supporters have become painfully familiar with that reality.
So in a position of solidarity, what do you do when the issue those you’re standing in solidarity with is intensely internal and conflicted? When you’ve been asked to step away, respect what’s being asked. When some ask for support and some ask that the community deal with internal issues without the presence of allies, then what?
If your “solidarity” with our people doesn’t carry the responsibility of relationship, (and even sometimes when it does) it will inherently become an oppressive and colonial relationship. Non-native allies carry the privilege of dis-engagement and specifically for white allies, your power as white people acts like a weight that tips the scales in an internal conflict to benefit whoever (faction, side, family, group, etc.) you choose to support.
The most dangerous privilege is that which is minimized, ignored or worse, invisible to yourself (ie., a white person claiming to be ‘colorblind’ or claiming they ‘don’t see race’.) Stop and listen to your gut instinct and look at the “solidarity relationships” you have in light of the privilege and power you carry.
What is the basis of your relationship to us? Is your support based on guilt or loyalty to one side? Do you run to collect donations when there’s a blockade but notice your enthusiasm fades when a call goes out to support a community garden? You may justify your reaction by saying one is a crisis, but we are experiencing a slowly building food crisis right now. Blockades and occupations are glamorized, easy to support and require little day-to-day relationship building.
Real relationships are not built on material support and they don’t evaporate when that material support can’t be given anymore. People in healthy, loving relationships don’t give to each other (emotionally, physically, etc) only in times of crisis and then let the relationship die when no imminent crisis is present.
One of the most intimate spiritual connections I’ve been honored with has been with someone whose personal and political differences have strained our relationship to the breaking point. At times, the mutual honesty has been so deep and so painful that I needed to take a step back and be on my own, humbly and honestly facing what is revealed—trusting that if the connection is genuine, hibernation will not mean death, but rebirth and renewal.
If a relationship so deep requires time apart for its own survival, does it not make sense that a surface relationship of solidarity may require stepping back in order to maintain a healthy connection to the community (as a whole, not just a part) one aims to support?
Again, stop and listen. It is racist to assume that all native struggle is alike or that all native people struggle alike, and equally colonial to assume that all support must take the same uniform, all-purpose, mass-produced shape. Think about the basis of your relationship apart from your ideals and your own needs—is your support really the kind of support that leads to functional autonomy? Why does it exist in your life—what need is it fulfilling for you and is that a need that can’t realistically ever be filled by what you’re filling it with? Is your “support” actually causing more harm to an internal struggle which needs to be made right again from the inside out?