Leilani Shaw picks up a pamphlet from the table and opens it up. The front reads Indigenous Ally Toolkit, laid over a backdrop of medicinal plants.
“The idea is that it’s [the Indigenous Ally Toolkit] supposed to be like medicine,” said Shaw, who designed the toolkit. “I hope that’s not too corny.”
The Kanien’kehá:ka woman from Kahnawà:ke is a part of the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network (MUACSN), a not for profit organization that works to improve the lives of Indigenous people living in Montreal.
But the toolkit isn’t made with only Indigenous Montrealers in mind.
“This toolkit is aimed at people who want to get into this work, or who already are and want to become a better ally,” explained Shaw.
The toolkit is broken down into three steps that non-Indigenous people can take to have a better relationship with Indigenous people.
The first step focuses on best practices for folks who feel inclined to join Indigenous causes. It recommends making sure one’s involvement is not driven by ego or funding possibilities, and to not hijack space from Indigenous voices.
“There’s always been a lot of white saviours who, even though they have good intentions in their mind, have done some harm in trying to help Indigenous people,” explained Brooke Wahsontiiostha Deer, project manager for the MUACSN
“I think a huge part of allyship is examining your privileges and the space you take up.”
Deer also said her life spent as a Kanien’kehá:ka woman navigating predominantly white institutions has shown her there’s a greater need for education.
Step two of the tool kit provides a breakdown of proper terms, grammar and common misconceptions.
“I think this is all information that, it’s not new, people have been having these conversations for a long time, but to have to have all this information bundled nicely together, I think was something that was really needed,” added Deer.
Dakota Swiftwolfe helped research and develop the content for the toolkit.
The Ojibway Cree woman says it fills a gap in the public’s knowledge of Indigenous issues, something she wishes the education system would do a better job of doing.
“Indigenous people deal with being approached with these questions over and over again, for their entire lives and it definitely like gets, not annoying, but there’s a lot of emotional burdens that go into educating non Indigenous people,” said Swiftwolfe.
“I hope Indigenous people can take this toolkit, give it to people, and just say ‘come back to me later and ask me more questions if you still have any’.”
The toolkit is currently available in both English and French and can be downloaded online.
And even though it’s currently based in Montreal, copies have been ordered by over a hundred organizations across Canada and the United States.
“We want to work in the future with different territories, and we were talking about that, we really want to have this throughout Canada and have it territory specific,” said Shaw.
As for the ultimate goal of the Indigenous ally toolkit?
It’s listed in the third step – have allies absorb the knowledge within, and then take action.