Speaking For, Speaking Beside: thoughts about consensual allyship

This past weekend, I attended the local Pride parade for the first time in about 6 years. I was happily surprised to see that some things had changed at the festivities, namely the heightened visibility and inclusion of two-spirit and local Indigenous communities. At the front of the parade, I found my cousin walking proudly in her button blanket along with a number of other people wearing regalia. And behind them, several Indigenous youth-serving organizations had joined together to create a float for two-spirit youth and their supporters. Babies, youth, adults and elders drummed, walked and sang together, creating a great presence of Indigenous folks in the parade. At the festival site following the parade, a local elder gave a welcome at the beginning of the celebrations, and then a drum group offered some songs.  This was all new to me. One of the reasons I had stayed away for so long was the lack of inclusion of two-spirit people and acknowledgement of Indigenous territories in previous years’ festivities.

It was this historical lack of inclusion that left me unsurprised at what unfolded in the midst of all this. A queer group with a social justice framework that puts on local events brought a banner to Pride saying the event was taking place on unceded Indigenous territories. According to friends who were involved, they were told by a festival organizer to take the banner down because it was political, and ‘Pride isn’t political’. As the group members spread word of this, they decided to hold the banner up anyway, making it visible for people as they entered the festival grounds. Unexpectedly, the festival organizer had a change of heart and said they could put the banner up afterall. Yet the damage had been done. Acknowledging that Victoria is on stolen land was too much for the Pride organizers (or one organizer, at least), despite their increased attempts to recognize Indigenous protocol and history, and to increase two-spirit visibility.

Since then, I’ve had conversations with a few people who are mobilizing to call out the Pride organizers on their action to remove the banner. They want to insist that Pride is not just about being queer but that other intersecting axes of power and identity must be integrated as well, and that it is indeed political. This causes me to wonder how non-Indigenous folks who want to support Indigenous communities and decolonial practices might engage in consensual allyship with Indigenous people who have been working to build relationships with the Pride organizers. And what about Indigenous folks like myself who are not from these territories, but are also visitors? What role might someone like me take in deciding what strategies are best for strengthening relationships between queer organizations and local nations? How do we avoid jeopardizing the work of Indigenous organizations and communities that might have led to the otherwise increased two-spirit presence? At the same time, how do straight members of local Indigenous nations work as allies with queer Indigenous people who are not from here, but who live in Victoria and want to create greater visibility at Pride? There are many complex issues that arise in considering the dynamics of creating allyship with one another across our Indigeneity, as well as with non-Indigenous supporters.

There is a danger in allies speaking over or speaking for those whom they’re trying to support. Representatives from local nations were at the events, and could clearly speak for themselves, though they may not have known any of this was going on because the banner was not theirs to begin with. In my experience, consensual allyship requires that we, as allies, first focus on our own relationships with those with whom we are claiming alliance. So for community groups that want to integrate a decolonial framework into their organizing, it’s important to look first at building relationships with peoples of this land, not only elders and chiefs, but also two-spirit youth and other community members. After all, if we don’t strengthen our own internal relationships, how will we know when and how to act as allies?

As we look to increasing communication and understanding for next years’ Pride festivities, how might local Indigenous communities and two-spirit people continue to form the vision for their inclusion in the parade and festival? How might non-Indigenous organizations and individuals support these efforts, while avoiding speaking for and over others? What forms of visibility are important here? What role do banners have in making the vitality and history of Indigenous peoples known? And when are other forms of visibility and inclusion of Indigenous people, knowledge, culture and histories more appropriate? I hope that by next year, as we walk, sing and celebrate alongside one another, we will have learned much about consensual allyship and be able to walk more strongly together.

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15 thoughts on “Speaking For, Speaking Beside: thoughts about consensual allyship

  1. Pingback: Sarah’s post about Pride | Victoria Pink Pages Blog

  2. Thank you, Sarah, for such a clear and articulate post that attempts to build bridges, rather than point fingers of blame.

    I posted about the banner and received a reply from a pride representative that the place of the pride festival is treaty lang; not that, if it’s true, the inappropriate behaviour is ok. I understand there was an agreement made recently under the Songhees Treaty that affects some lands in Victoria. Does anyone know what lands are covered by this new treaty agreement?

    Despite whether this banner was technically correct or not, respect is always necessary to build community and to build connections.

    To me, pride is political. It is also about love.

    • Thanks for your comments, Leslie. I’m not sure how the language on the banner matched up with the designation of those specific lands under Canadian treaty or property laws. But from an Indigenous perspective, they are Lekwungen territories, and an elder from that nation was invited to give a welcome accordingly. My hope is that Pride and various other stakeholders will focus on building positive relationships rather than having a debate over legal terminology so that we can move ahead in a good way.

  3. Speaking of “consensual allyship” isn’t that a term Jessica Danforth coined? Why isn’t she referenced?

    • Or Jessica Yee Danforth for those who aren’t familiar. Google her name and consensual allyship and lots of search results and references will come back from the past several years

    • I’m not sure if Jessica coined this term, but she is a dear friend, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d just integrated this into my vocabulary from working with her. For some of Jessica’s thoughts on the role of allies, here is a podcast of her talk for the Girls Action Foundation called Training Across Difference: how to be an ally. Thanks, Cynthia, for reminding me to reference Jessica’s important work on this.

  4. I’m pretty sure she did coin the term, although she’s humble and constantly working in communities and not an academic so no one’s going to “trademark it” for her. Although multiple searches and references come back with her on it. Our community has worked with her for a long time and it’s something we have discussed often, it’s helped us with a lot of the “bad allies” who have caused more damage than good.

  5. Great article Sarah, thank you! Consensual allyship is a new phrase to me and I’m going to start using it in the work I do in education. I love the focus on relationship and respect leading to “doing with” rather than “doing to” or “doing for”. Oh, and pride isn’t political?! Hmm…

  6. Thank you for this article, I found it to be well rounded and thoughtful. I am one of the organizers of Victoria Pride, and was present for the unfolding of events. It is a complex issue, one that we as a board, are wrestling with how to best approach. To be clear though, neither I nor the other board member present had issue with recognizing the land that we were on. It was that the banner specified that this is unconceded land. Perhaps I am ignorant to realities that exist outside of my traditional public education – and certainly see this very issue reflected in queer culture as well. However, our president took many steps to arrange for Elder Butch Dick to bless our presence on the land – and the banner seemed disingenuous to that effort. This in addition to accepting the invitation to be at the festival free of cost, to take part of pride house – and never discussing with us their intent… made it difficult to have a well-informed consensus on the matter. We are a board of 6 people only, in that our scope of knowledge is limited. 6 people does not an accurate reflection of 15,000 make (unfortunately our last AGM only 12 people showed up). So as I encouraged the members of this group, I encourage all – be involved. Come to our AGM, and be the change you wish to see. Let us all evolve together, and educate one another.

    • Thanks for your comment, Laurissa. I’m happy to hear that the board continues to talk about addressing this issue and working with various groups in collaborative education. And I hope to be involved in some way as we move toward next years’ Pride festivities.

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