How Lawyers Can be Good Allies – The Principles of Allyship

What is Allyship?

It’s “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.” BC Teachers Federation

It is a “philosophical approach that emphasizes social justice, inclusion, and human rights by recognizing the experiences of privileged and oppressed groups and acknowledging that an individual can be in multiple groups simultaneously.” Tulane University

Being an ally is about disrupting oppressive spaces by educating others on the realities and histories of marginalized people.

Allies understand the systemic racism and oppressive power structures that underpin Canada and seek to ensure their work does not perpetuate oppression.

What Allyship Isn’t

  • An identity or a status
  • A way to align with an issue or group that is high-profile or newsworthy
  • Self-defined
  • Done out of a sense of guilt
  • About “political correctness”
  • Expecting Indigenous people to educate you on cultural awareness and history of oppression
  • A way to receive special recognition or awards
  • An opportunity to speak on behalf of First Nations, Inuit or Métis

How To Be An Ally

  • Listen more, speak less
  • Acknowledge privilege and power and discuss these concepts
  • Transfer the benefits of your privilege to those who have less
  • Amplify marginalized voices
  • Take guidance from the Indigenous people, communities, groups you want to work with
  • Your needs are secondary to the needs of the Indigenous peoples you are working with
  • Be willing to receive criticism, feel uncomfortable and be challenged
  • Engage with others in positions of privilege and power to have conversations about systemic racism, oppression and allyship

Questions to Ask About Becoming an Ally

  • Are we willing to invest our own time, resources and energy in addressing our power and privilege?
  • Are we committed to dismantling systems of oppression in our own workplaces and with our clients?
  • Are our efforts perpetuating the oppression of Indigenous peoples?
  • How much space are we taking up in conversations? In rooms? In organizing?
  • How do we actively improve access to our meetings? Our actions?
  • How are our identities taking up space? Physically? Verbally?
  • How much do we know about the people we seek to work with? What are our assumptions, and from where did they originate?
  • Who are we leaving behind?”

Ideas to Implement Indigenous Allyship at Your Law Firm

  • Respect cultural protocols and traditions of your Indigenous clients and the territory on which your law firm’s office/s sit.
  • Talk about the expertise you see in your Indigenous co-workers.
  • Reduce barriers for Indigenous people to apply for management or board positions
  • Consider inviting Indigenous experts and thought leaders to present at company retreats, lunch and learns, conferences and events (or defer to an Indigenous colleague if you are invited to speak as an expert or thought leader)
  • Advocate for Indigenous colleagues and clients who are absent or missing from important meetings, events, strategic planning opportunities.
  • Create resources by and about Indigenous peoples related to your law firm’s areas of practice and encourage staff to do the research and educate themselves
  • Be an Upstander as opposed to a bystander: always speak up if you witness racist, discriminatory speech, bullying, microaggressions, gaslighting, etc.
  • Be a mentor to Indigenous people and ask Indigenous colleagues to mentor Indigenous and non-Indigenous colleagues.
  • Volunteer at a local Indigenous organization (doing something that they want or need or ask you to support)
  • Financially support ongoing staff professional development in cultural awareness, cultural competency, anti-racism.

For more resources on allyship, see:

Indigenous Ally Toolkit

Ally Bill of Responsibilities

BC Teachers Federation A Guide to Allyship

The Anti-Oppression Network Allyship

So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know

What is an Ally: 7 Examples