do what you say: indigenous solidarity in theory and practice


this is part two of a multi-part essay on indigenous solidarity. it’s based on nine years of doing indigenous solidarity with the indigenous peoples’ solidarity movement –ottawa (IPSMO: http//

to see part one of the essay, you can visit:

the lessons i have learned (from many mistakes and many successes) are all due to my participation in the IPSMO, and this collective has always survived due to the work of many people. i am grateful for, and want to acknowledge, everyone i have co-organized with (with the exception of denis leduc, the undercover police officer who infiltrated our group from 2008 – 2010, and despite the many times he drove us around in “his” van). the analysis presented here wouldn’t be possible without their hard-work and dedication. the analysis presented here, however, is my own, and doesn’t necessarily represent the position of the ipsmo or anyone else in the group.

this phrase “listen, take direction and stick around” is the title of a roundtable done by zainab amadahy and several activists:

for a longer list of ally responsibilities, see lynn gehl’s “ally bill of responsibilities”: .

do what you say: indigenous solidarity in theory and practice (part 2)

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

-Eduardo Galeano.

listen, take direction and stick around

i use this phrase regularly when i talk about indigenous solidarity. i like it because it covers the basics quickly and simply, and is both easy to remember and to the point: listen to indigenous people, take direction from indigenous activists and communities, and stick around in indigenous led decolonizing movements.


being an ally requires people to be good listeners. listening is a simple skill that is, for the most part, undervalued, underappreciated and underutilized in Canadian society. really listening to people is a precondition to actually learning from them; if you can’t do the one, then you can’t do the other. good listening requires emotional and intellectual openness, and paying close attention to another human beings thoughts and feelings. it can be challenging, especially when we are confronted with information that contradicts long-held assumptions, and if we are, or feel that we are, being attacked and judged. finally, while listening does not involve arguing, it is also distinct from agreeing.

take direction

taking direction from indigenous leaderships ensures that they are determining the priorities and work of solidarity organizing. while the basics are simple, it is not always as simple as it might seem!

the main difficulties i’ve noticed involve:

a) a lack of clarity by settlers as to why they are doing indigenous solidarity
b) settlers lacking clear criteria in determining who they are taking direction from and how to take direction from them
c) drama and interpersonal conflicts within/between indigenous groups and drama within/between settler groups

a) it is essential for solidarity activists to be clear with themselves, each other and with the indigenous people they are working with as to what their reasons are for doing indigenous solidarity. if you or your group’s real aim to is to strengthen, say, the NDP and to get indigenous people to support the NDP, then say so. to do otherwise is at best disingenuous, and at worst deceptive. the same rules apply for radicals: if you’re real goal is to get indigenous people to be anarchists, then say so, as doing otherwise is false and fraudulent. in both examples, i’d say that it would be best to reconsider your goals, and, instead, to put your full efforts into supporting indigenous resistance movements wholeheartedly and on their own terms.

b) taking direction involves working with indigenous people to determine what campaigns are most useful, what actions are desirable and determining priorities. take good note that there are many different leaderships that exist in different indigenous nations, communities, organizations and grassroots groups! indigenous leaderships are no more singular than white or settler leaderships. there is no single indigenous position on any political issue, and, in fact, indigenous leaderships are in conflict with one another. these conflicts are frequently a result of colonial policies to divide and rule indigenous nations.

taking direction is not the same as indiscriminately doing what any single indigenous person or organization is calling for (this is called tokenization), and is also not a matter of trying to “pick the leadership”.  to “pick the leadership” means an attempt by settlers to position certain indigenous people as the leaders of decolonizing movements. taking direction is better understood as working with indigenous people with whom one has political affinity and from there navigating the specifics of the solidarity work in a mutual and ongoing way.

for example, the ipsmo has always been a radical indigenous solidarity collective that aims to change the structures of colonialism, and we have chosen to work with indigenous people and communities that we understand to also be working for this type of change. this has meant working with the algonquins of barriere lake in their efforts to protect their lands and waters, and to assert their authority over their traditional territory through the trilateral agreement, an agreeement that, if it were honoured, would mitigate the impacts of colonialism, while enriching the community, and one that does not extinguish their aboriginal rights and title.  we have chosen to do this  rather than, say, working with the algonquins of ontario in support of their comprehensive land claim that, if ratified, will extinguish their aboriginal rights and title in eastern ontario.

c) equally important, although less well-known is for solidarity activists to entirely avoid getting pulled into all interpersonal and intercommunal drama. this type of drama is always destructive and self-destructive, and solidarity activists must not participate in it in any way. indigenous communities under attack by colonialism have enough problems without “solidarity” activists getting involved in their drama and accentuating conflicts that already exist.

finally, it must be noted that it is not the job of indigenous activists to mediate and remediate conflicts within and between settlers and settler solidarity groups.  while some indigenous people may be willing to do this, realize that this is indigenous people helping settlers to resolve their problems. that is to say, it is indigenous people working in solidarity with settlers, and, while it may be a good thing, it is not indigenous solidarity.

stick around

finally, sticking around is equally fundamental: decolonizing will take a long time (but it will come in time). real community organizing takes time. real movement building takes time. and real trust forms over time. remember, too, that settlers have been “helping” and/or trying to “help” indigenous people for centuries, but the effect, as well as, most often, the intent, has been to assimilate indigenous people, that is to say, to eliminate them as peoples, which is to say, ultimately, to engage in genocide. can it be any surprise, then, that indigenous people don’t trust white people, that they don’t trust settlers? don’t expect indigenous activists and communities to immediately believe that because you say you want to help, that you are indeed sincere.

sticking around in indigenous resistance and decolonizing movements provides indigenous people with the time and experiences necessary to determine whether solidarity activists are sincere, whether they will do what they say and if they will be there when they are needed.



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