Settlers: Become a Better Indigenous Ally

TRIGGER WARNING: Residential Schools, colonization, genocide

Sources of Support for Indigenous Peoples

Indian Residential School Survivor Society’s: 1-800-721-0066
Tsow-Tun-Le Lum: 1-866-925-4419
KUU-US Crisis Line Society : 1-800-588-8717
National Indian Residential School: 1-866-925-4419
Mental Health Resources for Indigenous Peoples:
It’s been three weeks since news broke about the 215 Indigenous children, whose bodies were found at the site of former Kamloops Residential School in B.C. Since then, the remains of more than 100 Indigenous children have been found at the sites of former Residential Schools in what is currently Canada. The graves of 104 children were located at the former site of Brandon Indian Residential School in Manitoba, 78 of these children have been matched to burial records thus far. The remains of 35 children were found by Muskowekwan First Nation near Lestock, Saskatchewan. The Regina Indian Industrial School Commemorative Association identified 38 potential unmarked graves of children at the site of the former Regina Industrial School. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission estimates that more than 4100 Indigenous children have been buried at the site of a former Residential Schools across the country.

This news is incredibly traumatic and deeply unsettling, but unfortunately given the history of colonization and Residential Schools in what is currently Canada, not surprising. You may be feeling angry, heartbroken, disgusted, distressed, scared, hopeless, triggered, a myriad of these emotions, and more. Those feelings have certainly been present at Firelight and have been one of the reasons writing this blog post has been so difficult. The main reason writing this is difficult is the need to take action and to get it right.

We have been taking time to pause and honour the lives of these children, listening closely to the voices of Indigenous Peoples. We have been listening to the stories bravely shared by Indigenous elders and Residential School survivors. This history is not relegated to Indigenous Peoples, it is Canada’s history, and it is ongoing. Residential Schools have resulted in severe intergenerational trauma and though officially the Residential School system has ended, Indigenous children continue to be separated from their families in the child welfare/foster system. In fact, while Indigenous children represent 7% of the Canadian population, approximately 52% of children in Canadian foster care are Indigenous according to the 2016 Canada Census. The last Residential School closed in 1996, a short 25 years ago. No school should have a graveyard.

We have been reflecting on our role as an organization and what that means in the wider context of Indigenous allyship. Ironically, to truly focus on the current and lasting effects of colonization, we first need to look inward and provide context about who we are as an organization and who I am as a writer.

It may out of place that this blog post is written from a settler’s perspective, especially given that we are an Indigenous-led organization and the majority of our readers are Indigenous. I suggested this post as an opportunity to provide a tool that can be used to point settlers on a meaningful path of help, beyond thoughts and prayers, which are just the first step and from an informed perspective, are not enough.

Ultimately, we recognize it is not fair or right to ask our Indigenous staff to write a piece for our social media about Residential Schools especially as they process and grieve the children that have been found and the countless others that died as a result of violence in Residential Schools. They are well aware of the trauma and the tragedy that unfolded including the fact that there are many missing children who have never been returned home. It is the non-Indigenous public for whom this is new and outrageous and who are now listening and looking for information. But in reality, this has been outrageous for more than a century. ‘Now you’re listening’, is a complex thought to articulate in this context.

Providing Context
Firelight is an Indigenous-owned and Indigenous-led organization. We provide research and consultation for Indigenous communities and organizations across what is currently Canada and Turtle Island. Our priority has always been to follow our clients’ lead to ensure Indigenous communities have a hand in decision-making in their Nations’ particularly when related to industry and housing. While we are an Indigenous-led organization, the majority of our staff are settlers on the land, myself included. As settlers, many of us carry privileges as a direct result of colonization and particularly, those of us that are white, again, myself included.

I am a settler on Anishinabek Nation, the traditional land of the Confederacy of Three Fires: Ojibwe (Chippewas), Odawa, and Potawatami Nations; Eelūnaapèewii Lahkèewiit (Delaware Nation) presently known as Chatham-Kent, ON. Delaware Nation at Moraviantown is a First Nations Reserve that is located in what is currently Chatham-Kent.

What is our role as an Indigenous-led organization with a large number of settler staff?
As one of the many settlers working at Firelight, I am constantly learning. My colleagues and I are often invited into Indigenous spaces and communities. This invitation is something we take with great honour, we know communities are inviting us onto their lands and are trusting us with information that is not typically shared with outsiders. It is always our job to listen to the needs of the community and use our skillsets to support those needs. Sometimes that means we are confronted with difficult information and questions that we were not prepared to hear or process.

Sometimes we need to take a moment to pause and that’s okay – but it’s important to remember that while some things can be hard to hear, living with the lasting impacts is undoubtably harder. It’s also important to remember that while we may need time to process, we also need to work on these projects to help communities move forward. As settlers, our roles as allies are similar: let Indigenous Peoples guide the way forward, listen to their thoughts and needs and ultimately, work towards policy and change.

What can settlers do to take action towards policy and change?
We have a list from our team, that we will share in another post, but the first thing to do is to read the 94 Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report, particularly 71 to 76 of the that deal with Missing Children and Burial Information. It’s time to be firm with all of our governments and our churches that they need to act.

After reading, contact your local MP and tell them to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action. (Find your local MP here:

You can copy and paste this letter written by Unifor and has been edited to provide up to date context:

Dear [recipient name will go here], 

It has been more than six years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled a comprehensive report and a road map for action.  

The 94 calls to action issued by the TRC are absolutely critical to Canada’s path to reconciliation, and there is no excuse for failing to act when the objectives are so clear.

The announced discovery of the remains of missing Indigenous children in Kamloops, B.C.; Brandon, Manitoba; Lestock, Saskatchewan; and Regina, Saskatchewan has re-ignited the national outrage about Canada’s colonial violence. The failure to implement the 94 calls to action are a failure to honour the victims and survivors of the Residential School system.

As my Member of Parliament, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to champion reconciliation and specifically implementation of the TRC recommendations.


[your name will go here]

[your email address will go here] [your location will go here]

Moving Forward: Reconciliation
The path forward to reconciliation is complicated. The injustices and the violence that European settlers, the Canadian Government, and the Roman Catholic Church inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples cannot be undone. Apologies are not enough – the path forward to reconciliation is through redefining the balance of power among Indigenous nations and the Canadian government. Reconciliation and engagement need to happen on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis. One thing is clear: for reconciliation to work we need to allow Indigenous Peoples to guide the way forward.

Note: The phrase “in what is currently Canada” was coined by Larissa Crawford. Larissa is a Métis-Jamaican activist, entrepreneur and Founder of Future Ancestors Services. She describes this phrase as opening space up to leverage Indigenous futurism and afrofuturism beyond a settler state. You can learn more about this here: