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   Ally Toolkit to Support Diverse Leadership

Allyship for Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit Peoples

The image contains a head-shot of Candace Brunette-Debassige, and her title “Special Advisor, Indigenous Initiatives to the Provost at Western University.” It also says, “Our identities situate us within history, within politics and within systems of power. As leaders, we need to cultivate self-awareness so as to be able to work with people in a more sensitive and intercultural way.”

Speaking from her experience as a Mushkego Cree woman originally from Fort Albany First Nation (Treaty 9 territory), Candace Brunette-Debassige shares that it is important to know and be aware that our personal experience influences our leadership, and how this experience is related to broader social systems. She says: “ Our identities situate us within history, within politics and within systems of power.” Candace says, as leaders, we need to cultivate self-awareness so as to be “ able to work with people in a more sensitive and intercultural way'' [minute 9:55- 13:15].

Territory acknowledgement: why and how

] A pink background with white letters reads the following: #LANDBACK ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, How are you supporting indigenous sovereignty?
Image source:

Territory acknowledgements are a way to increase awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. This is usually done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures, or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies. 

Allison Jones, a librarian working and living on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territory has compiled some resources for those planning to do a land acknowledgement as well as learn its significance. 

Recognize and avoid culturally appropriated language

Language plays an important role in our lives. Being inclusive in our use of language may require unlearning language that is considered common-place, but may have negative consequences-for Indigenous women and Two-Spirit Peoples. 

Cultural appropriation has been defined as “Taking from a culture that is not one’s own intellectual property, cultural expressions and artifacts, history, and ways of knowledge.” (Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, 1990). In Wikipedia’s definition it includes the understanding that “(cultural) appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.”

Below is a graphic that demonstrates racist phrases and suggests neutral alternatives. 

Remember, it’s not your intention, but your impact on others that matters. 

The image contains a chart with two columns, “Instead of '' and “Use”. Instead of “let’s have a powwow about this,” use “let’s meet about this.” Instead of “this is my spirit animal, use “this is my patronus.” Instead of “they went on the war path,” use “they’re dedicated to this.” Instead of “they went off the reservation,” use “they’re acting on their own.” Instead of “lowest man on the totem pole,” use “lowest rung on the ladder.” Instead of “this is my totem,” use “this is something I identify with.” Instead of “circle the wagons,” use “let’s get ahead of this.” Instead of “do a rain dance,” use “hope for rain.” home
Native Appropriated Phrases shared by @JesseWente on Twitter.

To learn more about cultural appropriation, listen to Episode #7 Native Appropriations on the All My Relations podcast or visit Dr. Adrienne Keene’s blog:


Two Spirited People

This image states : “Two-spirits are cherished. Two-Spirits are valued. Two-Spirits are treasured.” illustration by neebinnaukzhik southall chippewas of rama first nation.

Prior to colonization, many Indigenous Nations had understandings of gender that extended beyond the Western binary, and people with non-binary gender expressions were respected. 

Two Spirit is a term developed in 1990, at the Third Annual Inter-tribal Native American, First Nations, Gay and Lesbian American Conference, held in Winnipeg and is a term used exclusively by Indigenous Peoples. According to Chelsea Vowel, Two Spirit is a “pan-Indigenous concept encompassing sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity” ( Vowel, 2016, p.108).

Not all Indigenous people identify with this term. Non-Indigenous people cannot use this term. Today, Indigenous LGBTQ and Two-Spirit are terms chosen by some Indigenous people to describe an aspect of their identity. Two-Spirit places topics relevant to Indigenous gender and sexuality at the center of the discussion. Far too often, they are excluded from LGBTQ+ discourses. 

You can support Two-Spirit people by :

  • Creating safer spaces, free of shame, violence, stereotypes, bullying, homophobia and transphobia
  • Inviting them and welcoming them into events, traditional spaces and ceremonies
  • Being open to learning about Two-Spirit experiences
  • Respecting and honouring traditional Two-Spirit roles
  • Challenging systems and institutions to address the unique needs of Two-Spirit people
  • Advocating for their inclusion, their civil and human rights, and their indigenous rights
  • Providing and increasing opportunities for them to share their gifts

The importance of listening

Tenille Campbell, author of #IndianLovePoems, reflects on her experience sharing her work and speaking to non-Indigenous audiences.

If you’re non-Indigenous, your job is to be a good ally and sit down. This is not your problem to solve. This is not your space. You need to sit down, listen, and learn.
 - Tenille Campbell is a Dene/Métis author and photographer from English River First Nation, SK. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and is enrolled in her Ph.D. at the University of Saskatchewan.

Tenille discusses the harmful impact of settler colonialism and the intentional and unintentional perpetuation of negative stereotypes about Indigenous communities. She reflects on attempts to avoid invoking or repeating narratives about trauma and healing, particularly in what she often perceives to be unsafe settler spaces. For settlers, her post - entitled breathe, then speak - is a reminder to listen and learn, and centre stories told by Indigenous Women and Two Spirit leaders.

An Indigenous feminist approach to facilitating Q & A

headshot of Dr. Eve Tuck

A Twitter Thread by Dr. Eve Tuck

I was just asked by a colleague how I facilitate Q & A sessions—I guess the word is out that I am very deliberate about how an academic Q & A should go after a talk or panel. I think of this as an Indigenous feminist approach to facilitating academic Q & A. 1/ 

Ever since I was in graduate school, I thought I hated giving public talks. But I soon realized it’s not the presentation, but the Q & A that can feel so awful. Academic audiences can be arrogant, hostile, and self-absorbed. 2/ 

People don’t always bring their best selves to the Q & A—people can act out their own discomfort about the approach or the topic of the talk. We need to do better. I believe in heavily mediated Q & A sessions. 3/ 

Before I give a talk, I ask my host to please find someone to facilitate the Q & A. It is better for someone who knows the people in the audience to choose who gets to ask questions in public, because they know who is a bully, who to avoid, who will derail a conversation. 4/ 

The tips in this thread are both what I do after my own talks, and what I do when I am chairing a session. I especially do this for graduate students and early career scholars. 5/ 

I make it clear that it is the audience’s responsibility to help craft a positive public speaking experience for graduate students and early career scholars. I tell the audience to help keep the good experience going and tell them not to ask violent questions. 6/ 

Right after I am finished talking or all the panelists have shared their papers, I invite the audience to take 5-10 minutes to talk to each other. After 45-70 minutes of listening, people are bursting to talk, 7/ and taking the time to turn to talk to a neighbor keeps the first question from being from a person who just felt the urgency to talk. Also, I often need a breather and a moment to drink water or even step out to use the washroom. 8/ 

So, I give the audience 5-10 minutes to talk to a neighbor. I suggest that they use the time to peer review their questions. 9/ 
I say that this is a time for them to share a question they are considering posing in the q and a, and that they should

a) make sure it is really a question;
b) make sure they aren’t actually trying to say that THEY should have given the paper; 10/ 

c) figure out if the question needs to be posed and answered in front of everyone;
d) I remind the audience that the speaker has just done a lot of work, so they should figure out if their question is asking the speaker to do work that really the question-asker should do. 11/ 

Then, after 5-10 mins, I will sometimes ask for the first question to come from particular people in the room— Indigenous graduate students, etc.
Or, if opening it up for anyone to begin, I will ask, “did you peer review your question?” before the person takes the mic. 12/ 

People kind of laugh it off, but once they realize that I am serious--that the expectation is that they are thoughtful about the quality of their question and whether it really needs to be asked--it often helps to make the conversation much more satisfying. 13/ 

We often treat Q & A as something that is to be endured, and are willing to gamble on it not going well by having very passive facilitation. We can shift how we interact with one another and make it better. Thanks to Daniel Heath Justice @justicedanielh for asking about this! 14/


A how-to guide for difficult conversations about whiteness

This resource is from a recent panel discussion at the University of Manitoba with Dr. Ian Whetter, Dr. Delia Douglas and Dr. Marcia Anderson. Access the full panel discussion.

“What happens out there, happens in here. Indigenous peoples...We are carrying our history and our present with us. And so are you…We are also a site of creation and recreation. We can be a site of interruption.” Dr. Marcia Anderson minute 35:40

The panellists explore the violence of on-going settler colonialism and whiteness in relation to health and well-being in Canada. Dr. Anderson speaks of the myth of “colour-blindness” in Canada -because of Universal Health Care in Canada we treat everyone the same- despite evidence of great disparities in health between white settlers and Indigenous peoples and people of colour. For more on the myth of “colour-blindness,” check out Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s book “Racism without Racists Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States” (also available in audiobook format) or this article in The Conversation.

Dr. Anderson’s suggestions for where we go next. She suggests we take a right-based approach that centers the experience of Black Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) learners, faculty and staff in the learning environment. We call on white people to speak back to structures of whiteness and set up peer accountability when attempts to re-centre whiteness occur. We invest in the energy of BIPOC leaders in leading (instead of dealing with structures of whiteness). 
Questions for consideration:

  • What histories do you carry with you? How do these histories shape the opportunities that you’ve had in your life?
  • Whose histories don’t you know? How can you learn more about how those histories shape health and well-being in Canada?
  • “We can be a site of interruption.” What does this mean to you? How can you interrupt racism in your workplace? In your life?

Translation Exhaustion 
The image contains an image with black text on a white background. It reads: “Translation Exhaustion. The idea that Indigenous people (or any marginalized person/group) engaging with the larger population on a given subject or topic related to bias, must first set the stage in terms of historical context all the way to current day state of affairs, before even addressing said topic of bias- over and over again- due to the lack of education/background the listener has. A direct impact of erasure of true Indigenous history beyond the cursory mention in our school systems. - Twyla Baker”

headshot of Dr. Twyla Bake

A Twitter Thread by Dr. Dr. Twyla Bake 

A group of my Indigenous colleagues and I put voice to a feeling we've all experienced at multiple points in our journeys, and I wanted to get it down before I lost it. It may have already been defined elsewhere, and it's going to evolve as I explore it - but this is a start. /1

We explored the idea that you can experience this exhaustion at a very young age. And how much of a relief it is to run into people (like my colleagues) who already 'speak the language' and have the context, so you can fully engage right away. /2

The group I was discussing this idea with was a group of 5 Indigenous people, 4 from mainland, one Hawaiian. Out of 450 plus scholars, we found each other. But of course we did. That's what we do. Lol /3

We also talked about how the point of a given original conversation can be lost, due to the length of time it takes to do the translating - therefore, the initial reason for the labor is lost. Frustrating. This is simply an idea I wanted to share, I'm sure many on my feed /4

are familiar with, coming from your backgrounds. We wanted to put a name to it. Exploring more on it as it evolves. /5

Additional Resources

Wise Practices

The Bringing Reconciliation to Health Care Report written by Lisa Richardson (MD MA FRCPC) and Tracy Murphy (MHA CHE), with advice and guidance from the HealthCare CAN Indigenous Health Steering Committee shares 10 wise practices that will guide leaders in their work to advance and implement the TRC’s recommendations. 

This infographic contains 10 wise practices that address the TRC’s recommendations in health care. The recommendations are the following:  1- Support local First Nations, Inuit, and Métis leaders in conjunction with their national counterparts as they negotiate, develop, implement, and evaluate health transformation agreements, and advocate for policy and systems change. 2- Identify key stakeholders for community engagement and build relationships with them. 3- Make reconciliation and Indigenous health equity part of the organization’s strategic plan. 4- Promote the involvement of Indigenous peoples in the organization by recruiting them for governance and leadership positions, advisory circles, community liaisons, Elders’ councils, and other roles 5- Recruit, retain, and mentor Indigenous staff and health care providers at all levels of the organization, including procurement 6- Provide anti-racism and cultural safety education to members of the organization;develop and implement safe processes for both employees and clients to debrief racist or culturally unsafe experiences in the organization 7- Support Indigenous learners in the health professions by creating safe and respectful clinical learning environments that are free of racism and discrimination 8- Enhance the journey of Indigenous clients through the practice of trauma-informed care and programs such as Indigenous navigators, access to traditional foods and healing practices, support from Elders, and land- based healing 9- In jurisdictions where data related to race and ethnicity is available, track health outcomes for Indigenous vs. non-Indigenous clients in the organization 10- Understand and support changes to address Indigenous social determinants of health.

Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples

This MMIWG2S report is a call to action for all non-Indigenous people to understand the depth, severity, and impact the violence, trauma, and genocide that has happened and continues to happen to Indigenous Peoples across the country.

This image contains a drawing of an indigenous woman with the title “ no more stolen sisters”.
Image source: 

The text below comes from the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples (MMIWG2S) Report reading group. The group is hosted and facilitated by volunteers from * Kind Space, in Ottawa, Ontario.

“We have to start with truth. We all wanted reconciliation when the TRC recommendations came down, and we forgot about the truth. And I think that is the same thing here. We can’t just follow these recommendations, they won’t be impactful. We need to hear them, acknowledge them, and see them as truth. And then implement them into our policies to create changes that are going to affect us in the long-term.” 

-Indigenous activist Sarain Fox, Interview June 7, 2019, on The Morning Show, Global News

*Kind Space’s MMIWG2S reading group is hosting ongoing, intentional space for allies to read, process, discuss, plan, and act on the Calls for Justice together. In the space, the facilitators encourage you to feel your feelings in order to move towards meaningful individual and collective action. 

“It’s all about building relationships, you know? Our family systems have been fractured, so I got to learn how to build relationships again with my family. Healthy relationships. And, I have to learn how to build relationships with non-Indigenous people…. It’s all about relationships. And so, we heal in our Indigenous community, and then the non-Indigenous community is learning the truth, and then how do we come together? How can we come together in a healthy and safe way to start to build relationships, to start to heal all those lies that all sides have been told about each other? We need to heal [all] of that.”
     - Anni P, family member, MMIWG2S Report, Chapter 3, page 222

Read the MMIWG2S report and explore the website.

Podcasts: Stories by Indigenous Women

Which podcasts are you listening to? Are you listening to stories by Indigenous women and Two-Spirit Peoples? If not, you could start with this list of 9 Great Podcasts Hosted by Indigenous Women. The list was compiled by Kelly Boutsalis ( @KellyKaliopi) and published in Flare Magazine. Learn about more great podcasts to add to your repertoire.

Kelly’s article summaries and reviews the following Podcasts:

Indigenous Canada open course

The University of Alberta offers a free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called “Indigenous Canada” which explores Indigenous histories and contemporary issues in Canada. The course provides the context to present-day Indigenous/non-Indigenous relationships. According to the course’s website, the topics covered include:

  • The fur trade and other exchange relationships,
  • Land claims and environmental impacts,
  • Legal systems and rights,
  • Political conflicts and alliances,
  • Indigenous political activism,
  • Contemporary Indigenous life, art and its expressions.

Indigenous Peoples is an overarching term–recognized by the United Nations in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In Canada, Indigenous Peoples include First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Another set of resources on Indigenous health were curated by Ivy Bourgeault in the following twitter thread: 

FOLLOW: @apihtawikosisan @rjjago @wordsandguitar @jessewente @sarainfox @waneekhm @Alethea_Aggiuq @NWAC_CA #NativeTwitter #MMIWG #indigenous #indigenouspeople #firstnations #indigenousrights