Photo: David Coombs
I still feel as though there’s a right way to do this, a right way to observe the drumming – a truly enlightened ally way. If there is I don’t know it, but that doesn’t stop the mind, does it? The singing of the drummers does that. It invades my skull like spirit coming into form. It’s a full body assault. Wake up! Wake up!
It calls within my experience, directly from the heart of the moment. But I make it a story. It becomes something to figure out, something to do. Maybe I can surrender enough, release my reflexes towards tension and keep my eyes open. That will prove something, right? I struggle, my eyelids closing in small flickers of time at each atomic beat. Finally, I succumb to the call.
In the Tuesday circle I have heard non-Indigenous people identify as “Settler” as a way to own their position in relationship to a history of colonization. The Indigenous man whom I sat next to at the first meeting, with one of his turns to speak, expressed that no one in the circle is a “Settler.” He extended his relations to all those in attendance.
The reality is there’s no place in this group for non-Indigenous folks like me to rest their head. Political ideology, tactics, allegiances (racial, religious, and otherwise), the very features that often define an organizing community (who belongs and who doesn’t) are nowhere enshrined or culturally enforced. Without an expectation to conform to we are forced back upon ourselves. The result? Either constantly shift shapes according to the people I’m in relationship with in that moment in order to fit some image in my head of the appropriate image of an “ally” in their head or, like my experience with the drum, allow that there is no perfect way to be.
So what does “ally” mean then? Ally comes into my experience as a verb: I am allied in nurturing relationships personally and redefining them politically. Embodying that means putting down images of ‘ally’ in the mind and being responsible how I engage right now, for how much or little I know, for being myself – simply. It means being humble and open – open to being wrong and open to changing. It means having the courage to know that I don’t know how this should be or how this should go and the courage to speak and act as a treaty person, an equal partner, as justice isn’t something for others but something we all pass through together or carry as yokes upon our shoulders as work left undone. No one is inherently oppressor or victim, but these roles – each of which mangle individuals and groups in their own way – are where we land when thrown out of our natural resting state of peace, respect, and acknowledgement.