Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships

By Lynne Davis, ed.
University of Toronto Press, November 30, 2009, $37.95

Lynne Davis’s anthology, Alliances: Re/Envisioning Indigenous-non-Indigenous Relationships, brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists, scholars and community leaders to reflect on relationship-building/alliance-making in struggle and how such work impacts both the personal and political.

Starting with theoretical frameworks explaining how Indigenous peoples look at relationship-making and relationship-maintenance we have contributions from Elders and leaders who have forged their understandings out of the fusion of both lived experience and oral teachings. A reading of this section provides vital and rewarding insight into the Indigenous-centred worldview, which holds that all entities, including individuals and communities, develop and evolve through relationship. As Wampanoag contributor gkisedtanamoogk so eloquently puts it: “… if this work does not transform you, then you are not paying attention.”

Further to this worldview gkisedtanamoogk cautions us to not be “stuck in a homocentric ideology of what relationship means.” In this regard he reminds us that the stakes are no less than the survival of the human species, which is dependant on the survival of all other life forms on the planet. Thus, at their core, Indigenous struggles are everyone’s struggles and “allies” have a huge stake in the outcomes.

From the theoretical, we move into stories offered by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers, who recount not only how victories were achieved and progress was made to protect land, culture and lives but also how peoples have grown and evolved in the process of working together. The stories involve status as well as non-status communities from all over Turtle Island; local struggles over land and resource rights as well as international campaigns over the universal recognition of inherent Indigenous rights and cultural expression.

One caution in putting together such an anthology is the occasional tendency for non-Indigenous contributors to centre accounts of their own struggles within their own communities, while barely mentioning and, consequently demonstrating, a lack of comprehension, of the core need to decolonize our collective mindset, something Indigenous peoples ask us all to do not out of a sense of cultural colonialism but in the context of grappling with what makes the most sense for the long term survival of all our peoples. Though such a narrow focus is rare within the anthology, there are accounts that tend to be framed within a linear storytelling style that prioritizes outcomes over process. Victory over transformative relationships. However, the final section “The Personal Is Political” redeems all with such entries as “Are White People Obsolete: Indigenous Knowledge and the Colonizing Ally in Canada.”

While it might have been nice to see more contributions from racialized “allies” (allies of colour), and how relationships are forged and maintained across the anti-racism movement in urban settings where most First Nations people live, the anthology is one of a few works on the topic that even considers the question with an entry entitled “Indigenous Solidarity in an Anti-Racism Framework?”

In all, Alliances is a thought-provoking read that, at its minimum, leaves us hopeful for the future of our lands, communities and relationships.—Zainab Amadahy

Alliance contributors: Adam Barker, Deborah Barndt, Rick Cober Bauman, Craig Benjamin, Ned Bobkoff, Dorothy Christian, Samuel R. Cook, Judy Da Silva, Lynne Davis, Thierry Drapeau, Kevin FitzMaurice, Tanya Chung Tiam Fook, Victoria Freeman, Gkisedtanamoogk, Beenash Jafri, Daystar/Rosalie Jones, Tom Keefer, Marie Léger, Lily Pol Neveu, Jennifer Preston, Laura Reinsborough, Justin B. Richland, Patricia Sekaquaptewa, Paula Sherman, Leanne Simpson, Heather Yanique Shipiarsky, Merran Smith, Art Sterrit, Marilyn Struthers, Jake Swamp, Caitlyn Vernon, Rick Wallace, Karenne Wood, William Woodworth Raweno:kwas.

Zainab Amadahy

Zainab Amadahy

Zainab Amadahy is a mother, writer and activist. Her publications include the novel Moons of Palmares (1998, Sister Vision Press) as well as an essay in the anthology Strong Women’s Stories: Native...