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Toolkit launched to help increase sensitivity

The Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Network (from left to right) co-chair Maya Cousineau-Mollen, co-chair Vicky Boldo, Dakota Swiftwolfe, Allison Reid, Leilani Shaw, and Brooke Wahsontiiostha Deer. (Courtesy Leilani Shaw)

Today’s “Understanding Allyship” panel discussion and workshop is the first of the “Talking Lunches” series at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business as First Voices Week begins at the school.

Members of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network, producers of the Indigenous Ally Toolkit, are facilitating the workshop, which explores what it means to be an ally, appropriate terminology, and ways to avoid stereotypes or destructive habits when building relationships between Onkwehón:we people and their allies from different cultures.

“We really wanted to take a lot of the pressure that comes with working in this type of field,” said Leilani Shaw, who helped design the toolkit.

Shaw said the Network gets around 10 emails a week from non-Indigenous organizations or professors with questions and requests.

“That’s why we wanted to have this toolkit out there, so the information is out there, it’s packaged, and now they have to take the liberty for them to research on their own,” said Shaw.

Wahsontiiostha Brooke Deer helped edit the toolkit (which launched online this week), and was involved in presenting it. The team presented it first in Saskatchewan at the Canadian Roots Exchange National Youth Gathering in November, and conducted an allyship workshop.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Deer. “We’ve gotten dozens of requests from organizations who want to have copies for both their employees and clients.”

The toolkit includes a list of terms from First Nation to Two-Spirit to Settler to Pow Wow, as well as a list of “Things not to say.”

“The Indigenous Culture,” the toolkit reads for example, “is too broad considering that hundreds of Indigenous communities, nations, languages and cultures exist within Canada. Instead of singular, try using plural forms instead.”

“I think it’s been so positively received because it identifies allyship at its core centre and talks about that and relating it to Indigenous struggles and ongoing colonialism,” said Shaw. “As well it’s kind of a learning toolkit, so people walking away learning something.”

The toolkit is a simply packaged eight-page document that is easily digested and understandable.

“We really wanted to make it as simple as possible and straightforward, and not, in any way, long-winded, or radical,” said Shaw. “It doesn’t assert our opinion on anything. It just kind of states the facts, states a lot of information throughout history as well as all those good resources.”

The hope, Deer said, is to improve dialogue and relationships and set a respectful tone between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“This is especially needed in organizational settings where Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups regularly convene,” she said. “A lot of time gets wasted on education of the non-Indigenous individuals and that can be very draining for the person having to do the educating.”

Today’s workshop runs from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the ninth floor.

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