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What does First Nations allyship look like?

By Kishaya Delaney

This is a guest article by Kishaya Delaney.

CW: racism

For many First Nations people, the desire to fight for First Nations justice comes from generations of advocacy and an innate sense of purpose to give back to the community. For many non-First Nations people, it’s a choice. In a country like Australia, where First Nations communities are often overlooked, it can be easy for non-Indigenous people to live their entire lives without showing any solidarity with First Nations causes. Yet around the country, millions of Australians are making the choice to be an ally to First Nations people every day. This is so important. Australia is a big country with a population of more than 26 million people, and First Nations people make up a small percentage (about 3.8%). That means we need the support of millions of allies to make real change for First Nations people. 

It takes more than one day to be a good ally. An ally is someone who makes choices each day to support the fight for First Nations justice. Allyship is about more than good intentions. It’s not enough to believe that you support First Nations causes, you’ve got to show it with your actions – what you say, what you watch, what you read, what you do. 

So what should you do to work towards being a good ally to First Nations people?

Listen & Learn

Always remember to listen to First Nations communities and centre First Nations voices, and learn about First Nations history and culture. For instance, you can check out these other great Rosie blogs and articles on First Nations topics.

When it comes to learning from First Nations people, it’s important to be mindful of First Nations peoples’ time and energy. First Nations people often feel an extra burden from constantly having to explain things to non-Indigenous people. While this makes it easier for the non-Indigenous people to learn because they can ask a question whenever they like, it means the First Nations person is using a lot of energy to explain. Always do your own research first, and always be respectful of other people’s time and boundaries. 

As an ally, if you want to chat to a First Nations person about First Nations issues, ask whether they want to have the conversation and when they want to, rather than just launching straight in. This allows them to manage their own energy and say no if they aren’t feeling up to it.

Solidarity, not saviours

For hundreds of years, non-Indigenous people have often felt like they know what is best for Indigenous people. This is why the Stolen Generations happened – white colonisers thought that Aboriginal children would be better off away from their families and culture. 

We know that First Nations people know what is best for their communities. As an ally, it’s important to remember that First Nations people have the solutions, and allies can help make the changes needed. You should never speak on behalf of or over First Nations people, as that is not your role as an ally.

Protestors at the 2021 Invasion Day rally in Naarm/Melbourne holding up a large banner in the colours of the Aboriginal flag that reads "Solidarity / Campaign against racism & facism".
Challenge racism

Racism against First Nations people is a huge problem in Australia. While there is a lot of overt racism, which is being racist on purpose (like using an offensive slur against someone), there is also a lot of covert racism, which can be harder to notice. Covert racism refers to more subtle actions that discriminate against First Nations people (to remember the difference, think of covert like ‘under cover[t]). An example of covert racism is a shop assistant following an Aboriginal person around the shop to watch in case they steal something (this is called racial profiling).

As an ally, you should do your best to call out racism when you see it/hear it if it’s safe for you to do so, like if it involves a friend or peer at school. There are different ways to do this and what is appropriate would always depend on the situation you are in. You could try directly calling it out by saying something like “Hey, I heard what you said back there and that’s actually really racist and hurtful”, or giving them some more information by saying something like “I’ve learnt that using that word is actually racist, can I tell you a bit more about why?”. If you’re at school, you should always let a teacher know if you see racist behaviour. For more tips on responding to racism, check out this Rosie article.

Sometimes the people we love can also say racist things, like our parents or family. It’s important to remember that older generations grew up in a different time and have learnt different things growing up, but that times have changed. If this is the case, try talking to your parents about why it’s important to support First Nations communities and let them know you’re not comfortable with racist language.

Get Social

A great way to be an ally to First Nations people is to get social and bring another few allies along. Take the time to talk to your friends about First Nations issues. Maybe you could suggest they listen to a First Nations podcast you like, or go with you to a First Nations art event, or buy some matching earrings from a deadly Black business like Haus of Dizzy.

Social media is a fantastic way to show your support for First Nations causes. Make sure you’re following First Nations people and organisations so you can learn different perspectives and keep up to date with campaign movements. Resharing things on your stories or profile is a great way to bring more attention to First Nations issues.

You can also think locally. Are there any community events in your area or at your school that you could get involved in? It’s super important to be a good ally all year round, but there are always great events around the country and online to get involved in around Invasion Day, National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week. 

Being an ally to First Nations people is a great way to be a part of something bigger than yourself, learn new things, make new friends, and work towards ensuring a better future for Australia overall. And just remember – It’s a lifelong journey, so it’s okay if you don’t always get things right.

Kishaya smiling at the camera. She wears a black top and is standing before a tree.
About the author
Kishaya Delaney

Kishaya Delaney is a proud Wiradjuri woman from Orange, New South Wales and currently lives on Bidjigal land. As a Pro Bono Lawyer, Kishaya is passionate about First Nations justice and empowering First Nations communities and organisations. Kishaya previously worked as Project Officer for the Towards Truth project, leading a team of researchers to develop a law and policy mapping database to support truth-telling under the third reform of the Uluru Statement of the Heart.

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