Stop stealing our Indigenous struggle: A guide for the non-Indigenous Supporter

I often see well-meaning non-Indigenous who are trying to help with Indigenous cause. Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this blog, I want to frame it with this poignant, yet beautifully sad story and a lesson from a butterfly.

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. The butterfly managed to make a small hole, but its large body struggled to release. After a long struggle, the butterfly appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still. The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus freeing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s wings were crumpled and stuck to its body. The man continued to watch, hoping at any moment, the butterfly’s wings would open and fly. Nothing happened. What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon provided the effort that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole. Nature’s way of strengthening the butterflies wings.  The butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging itself around – its shriveled wings, incapable of flight. The butterfly unable to fly off on its destiny.*


The man in this story is ignorant to the butterflies needs.  No matter how well intentioned, we are ignorant when we walk into communities that are not our own. That ignorance can be a dangerous to the Indigenous struggle. Some of our Indigenous communities are in such vulnerable states, the idea of any outside assistance, support and leadership can be hypnotic. However, I’ve seen instances of well-meaning non-Indigenous supporters getting it wrong. So I’ve crafted some guidelines as a start to thinking about what the non-Indigenous supporter should try to avoid.

  1. Speak with, but never for Indigenous people.

Indigenous people can speak for themselves. Full stop. I cringe hearing non-Indigenous people talking about how an Indigenous community lives and thinks. I double cringe when I hear how through their non-Indigenous help and assistance they have ‘saved’ that Indigenous community. I call this the missionary mentality. “If it wasn’t for me, these people would still be poor and helpless”. Every person and community has their own source of power, and only they can be credited for discovering and accessing it for themselves. Please always try to have an Indigenous representative with you, who should speak to their own communities’ existence. Speak with, not for. If you ARE going to talk about your Indigenous project, then talk from your own experiences and leanings as a non-Indigenous.

  1. Support, but do not create new Indigenous causes of which you are the lead.

I’ve seen a couple of examples of non-Indigenous creating their own organisations, events and initiatives. My question is why? Support one of the multitudes that already exist and Indigenous led. I think a non-Indigenous person must always ask themselves, why am I in this Indigenous space? On occasions I have seen non-Indigenous people using the Indigenous activist scene as a platform to have their own individual selves seen and heard.

  1. Teach but do not patronise.

Business schools can be particularly guilty of going into communities with patronising teachings. Never for a moment do they think to consider that these Indigenous communities survived economically for thousands of years with entrepreneurial and innovative behaviour. Some research reveals that quality of life was higher in some pre-colonial Indigenous communities. Instead business schools deliver their capitalist teachings and profit-centered curriculum’s informed by Western philosphies. Help Indigenous communities to unleash their own understandings of the world, do not force or push your own on to them. It takes a truly conscientized person to understand the difference. Where possible always try to empower people to learn their own unique Indigenous ways of doing things.

  1. Learn but do not claim.

Once on my kapahaka travels to Europe, I had to fight against a non-Maori kapahaka group over which haka item we would perform together at an opening event. Are you kidding me?! Learn the culture but never try to own it. Think of yourself as a guest in someone’s house. You are invited in to share the experience. You may know the workings of the house but you do not have any authority in that house. Usually, it takes years of long term sustained and continued small experiences to become fully embedded and accepted as a part of that community, which may then eventually lead to gaining some cultural authority.

I hope these guidelines are helpful to all our non-indigenous supporters out there. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), at the end of the day our path to empowerment and freedom of choice is our struggle. Our wings can only be strengthened through the course of the struggle.  Anything less denies us of our opportunity to thrive and fly to our destiny.

*Story adapted from Sonaira D’Avila
photo credit:

11 thoughts on “Stop stealing our Indigenous struggle: A guide for the non-Indigenous Supporter

  1. Beautiful piece mate Louie Gong a Native American advocates in a very similar manner about cultural appropriation in the arts 🎭. Your piece immediately reminded me of the slogan “Not about us, without us”. This blog can spin so many ways and we need to advocate more about this kaupapa. Unfortunately we ourselves are seeing examples of this being done to us by our own too. Money 💰, power and control unfortunately are common denominators. We ourselves cannot or perhaps choose not to recognise it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This blog resonated with me because as a single Pakeha mother of a part Maori daughter I have struggled to validate my daughter’s heritage without claiming it as mine. It is a fine line. Many years ago I was told by a kuia that my value is that I can talk to my people using my point of view, understanding and experiences. I have carried that advice with me ever since. I can never claim to understand the deeper meanings of what being Maori is but I have witnessed struggle and amazing courage.
    I hope that has given me the kind of insight I can share with my people without interpretation of what it might mean in Maori terms but rather as the mother of a daughter I love dearly.
    I dream of a nation where we live side by side respecting each other’s point of view and never claiming that one is greater than another or ownership of that which is not ours to own.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Kiri,

    Deep inside I ended up in a crumpled heap bawling – feeling like I could just rest for a few seconds because someone (you) gets it, gets the daily struggle to be acknowledged on ones own merit – to feel good about oneself without having first acknowledge the many who have “helped” me “get there” out of some form of expectancy and so on …

    Nobody owns the right to another … nobody.


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