Settler Canadians seem to be increasingly interested in acting as allies with Indigenous people, interested in reconciling and learning, in this post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission era. The runaway success of Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky’s recent post on 150 acts of reconciliation (over 25,000 views!), the popularity of the University of Alberta’s free online course on Indigenous history, and even the interest in classes in Indigenous history that I’ve been teaching for seniors in Toronto recently, all suggest to me that non-Indigenous Canadians are interested in building relationships and learning about the past, and from the past, more than ever before. As former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Matthew Coon Come recently wrote, “The tide has begun to turn as far as Canadians’ understanding of the history of Indigenous peoples in this country… And I sense, as never before, that the majority of Canadians wish to put their relationship with Indigenous peoples on a more honourable footing.”
While Canadians want to learn more about Indigenous history and culture, and the history of relationships between Indigenous people and settlers in what became Canada, we haven’t looked very much at the history of alliances and friendships between these same people.
Joan Sangster, in her presidential address at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at Ryerson University (“Confronting Colonial Pasts: Historicizing a Century of Canadian Political Alliances”), talked about historical alliances between non-Indigenous individuals and organizations, and Indigenous people, and how these alliances need further exploration. She gave several examples of non-Indigenous people working as friends and allies of Indigenous people, or at least, trying to, however problematic some of their efforts might have been. I have a particular interest in one of the women discussed in her address who is a fascinating example of people “with good intentions,” such as those that Celia Haig-Brown and David Nock wrote about several years ago.