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Moving Allyship to Activism Conversation with Jessica Vandenberghe


Article written by Denise Young, WIL National Diversity and Inclusion Advisor


Jessica Vandenberghe, an Indigenous Professional Engineer, Industrial Professor, and the Assistant Dean (Outreach) at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Alberta. She also has her own consulting firm, Guiding Star Consulting where she contributes to Truth and Reconciliation, acting as a bridge to Indigenous communities, talks to Calls to Action implementation, and works on TRC awareness.


Photo credit to Syncrude Canada Ltd. as part of their Pathways Magazine.


Jessica’s Vandenberghe gave an inspiring webinar on “From Sorrow to Action: An Exploration of Every Canadian’s Role in Truth and Reconciliation”. Jessica’s sharing of her knowledge and authentic story inspired me to follow-up and chat more about how to move from allyship to activism. First, let’s define allyship which is a lifelong process of building meaningful relationships based on trust and accountability with marginalized individuals and/or groups of people. The importance of allyship in the workplace lies in the acceptance that imbalances do exist, and using whatever voice or platform that I’ve been afforded to work toward changing that.


As being non-indigenous and working with Indigenous communities, I sometimes feel like an “imposter” therefore, “what can we do as a non-indigenous/settler to be respectful? Jessica commented that “Indigenous are tired of having to fight to be at the table therefore we need allies to support us when we aren’t invited to be at the table”. Below are some key areas that Jessica states makes a strong ally:

Someone who gives me space to talk, even if they can’t relate or understand

Someone who acknowledges my feelings and doesn't dismiss or diminish them

Someone who sits with me even when I can’t talk

Someone who speaks for me when I can’t find my voice or when I don’t have the privilege to be in the room.


We discussed the 215 Residential School children’s bodies that were found in Kamloops and the 104 potential graves in Brandon residential school and what it means to Indigenous people and what we can do. “People are never ready for this type of conversation, they may be resistant to accept it and want to “sweep it under the rug” but we need to activate the allies if we want to make changes”. Jessica goes on to say, “action does not have to be grandiose...impacting one person is a success, this is how we drive change”. Some people may become allies after the education/awareness stage but activists intentionally look for ways that uplift the voices of those that aren’t heard. It is important to understand that both are important and needed in society.


Just as society will not change overnight, neither will you. Guide to Allyship lists some important do’s and don’ts to consider as you learn, grow, and step into the role of an ally. We encourage whether you are a front-line worker or a CEO, we are all leaders and have a voice, Let’s support when we can.