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Walking as an ally

Kimberly Johnson-Breen (left) with Remember Me organizer Jenny Šâwanohk Sutherland
By on November 1, 2022

Wearing an orange shirt on September 30 is an easy way to show support for survivors of residential schools and reconciliation work. As the crowd walked from the Remember Me gathering on Parliament Hill to LeBreton Flats for the afternoon’s program, I asked Kimberly Johnson-Breen, a Cherokee parishioner at St. John the Evangelist, about how to walk as an ally to Indigenous people and followed up to get a few more of her thoughts the next day. 

“I am Indigenous, but I walk in two worlds because I have a European mother and a Cherokee father,” she explained. “I was raised by my Cherokee grandparents and my uncles on that side. And I have a baby sister who has dark hair, dark skin, brown eyes… She has been discriminated against, [has had experiences] where she has not gotten services, medically and in other forms. And I can be standing right beside her and because I am light-skinned, I have a certain amount of privilege she doesn’t hold, but we are sisters with the same parents.”

The first step in becoming an ally is to listen and to educate yourself, Johnson-Breen said, noting that she has often heard people proclaim themselves as good allies before they have taken the time to educate themselves and recognize their own privilege. “I’ve gone through ally programs for LGBTQ and two-spirit marginalized people because my daughter belongs to that [community]. And I wanted to do it…. I did not ask them to educate me in that way. I educated myself, but as far as me saying ‘Okay now I’m trained, and I can be a good ally,’ that part’s not up to me,” she said. “You’re not the one who gets to stamp you as an ally. They are, those marginalized persons, those Indigenous people,” she said.

It is good to be willing to speak up and get involved if you see racism and injustice, but she advised that it is best to listen and to ask the Indigenous person involved “How can I come along beside you? What is it that you need?”

She added: “We know the basics. They need a place at the table. They need to be in those leadership positions….You can [look for ways to] use your privilege, so that you can be that placeholder in a way.”  

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