How to be a Better Settler #4: Educate yourself on how to educate yourself

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I hear the same complaint often from my Indigenous colleagues and friends: they are asked by someone, far too frequently than they would like, to explain some aspect of Indigenous life to them.

Usually it’s a well-meaning settler who genuinely wants to know more, and of course, thinks getting it from the source is the best way to do that.

It is. Just not like that.

Random Indigenous people that you come across are not obliged to be your teachers about Indigenous life. Even if they are your good friends, or colleagues–do not expect that they will be happy when you say something like, “Hey, do you know where I can get more information about _______ ?”

Google it.

The only time asking an Indigenous person a direct question works is if you want to confirm a community protocol while on a visit, make sure you’ve got a pronunciation of a new-to-you name correct,  or to just generally make sure that you’re getting something right, because it may directly affect the person you’re asking. That’s just plain good manners. It’s also good protocol when working with Indigenous people.

Be mindful of what you’re asking. Know that for generations, Indigenous people have been ignored, maligned, their customs criminalized. They have resisted and struggled, sometimes in secret, to maintain their cultural heritage. Your newfound interest, while well-meaning and very welcome, can be seen as an intrusive passing fancy.

So, Google it. Get on Twitter. Get on Instagram. Follow CBC Indigenous. Educate yourself on how to educate yourself. That’s on you. Not on them.

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