How To Show Up As An Ally For First Nations People, Today & Every Day

Practising true allyship to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is an ongoing process. Undoubtedly, it requires a lot of listening and learning, but there’s also a lot more we can do to show up in a genuine way for First Nations Peoples. 
“The most important thing people can do is to step up and support us and be an ally in the tough times, not just the good, happy days,” explains Dr Clinton Schultz, Gamilaroi/Gomeroi man, registered psychologist, and Director of First Nations Partnership and Strategy at the Black Dog Institute
“It's all good for people to want to turn up during NAIDOC Week or at Reconciliation Day events, [but] true allies want to be there and walk this hard walk with us, every day.” 
One of the first steps we can take to become better allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to educate ourselves — but that’s certainly not where it ends. “It absolutely requires people to take a step back and reflect on the everyday power and privilege, the opportunities and resources that are readily available to them, because they happen to be a non-Indigenous person living in this country,” explains Shultz. 
“Then, consider: ‘What am I willing to do with those in the effort to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a more positive direction?’ That's the work that needs to be done by non-Indigenous people that we can not do as First Nations peoples."
As Shultz tells Refinery29 Australia, true allies will ask themselves “what they are actually willing to relinquish in that space in order to walk with us”.

Educate Yourself Without Adding To The Cultural Load Of First Nations Peoples

While it's essential to listen to and platform the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of your allyship, it’s crucial to do this without adding to the cultural load of the people in your orbit, whether that's a public figure you follow on Instagram, a colleague, or a friend.
“Cultural load is that extra work that gets put upon us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within workspaces that sit outside of our job descriptions or our everyday work,” says Shultz. Essentially, it’s when people are being expected to speak for “everything and anything Aboriginal, for instance”. 
Shultz emphasises that asking your First Nations colleague (or friend, or social media creator) to explain the concept of, say, a referendum to you when the same information is available to you online, is adding to their cultural load. 
“So, I think, what people need to do is take the time to actually do their own background research first — that's part of the learning journey — and then come and have an informed discussion with us, rather than expect us to do the work and to just give you the answers.”
Below is a non-exhaustive list of resources and organisations to visit to start, or continue, your learning journey in a culturally sensitive way:

Learn More About Your Local Indigenous Community

Being a better ally means understanding and learning more about the traditional custodians of the land. You can do this by reaching out to your local councils, or utilising resources like the Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) or Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) to find out the history of your local area and the land your town was built on. The AECG also has local representatives in each area that you can connect with, listen to and learn from.
Another organisation to learn from is Australians Together, a not-for-profit that aims to help non-Indigenous people learn the true story of our shared history and understand how it's still having an impact today.

Listen To First Nations Podcasts

An important part of being a better ally is listening, whether it's via podcasts, local radio or in person. Listening to the stories of the traditional custodians of the land allows their voices and perspectives on issues that impact them to be heard. Below is a list of important listens that will help educate you on how to be a better ally and to understand First Nations culture better.


The AWAYE! podcast presents a diverse and vibrant range of Aboriginal arts and culture from across Australia. You can listen to it via ABC Listen app, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Speaking Out

Speaking Out is a politics, arts and culture radio segment from a range of Indigenous perspectives. Speaking Out broadcasts on Radio National on Fridays at 12pm and on ABC Local Radio on Sundays at 9pm.

Unravel: Blood On the Tracks

Unravel: Blood On the Tracks is a true crime podcast from journalist Allan Clarke that delves into the unsolved murder of Gomeroi teenager, Mark Haines. It tells the story of a divided town, an investigation bungled, evidence lost and explores why critical leads were never followed up by police in the death of this Indigenous teen.

Beyond The Gap

First Nations Foundation (FNF) launched the 2021 podcast series, Beyond the Gap, to explore best practice reconciliation and Indigenous engagement for corporate Australia and beyond. The conversations investigate the influences and constructs that should be considered for Reconciliation Action Plans, and what is the best path forward to engage and empower our country’s First Nations peoples.
The host, Phil Usher, is a proud Wiradjuri man who grew up in the rich culture of the Gamilaroi people. He chats with a variety of guests to dig deep into our country’s history to better our future.

Frontier War Stories

Frontier War Stories is a podcast dedicated to truth-telling about a side of Australia that has been left out of the history books. Hosted by Boe Spearim, Brisbane-based Gamilaraay & Kooma radio host, each episode features interviews with different Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Through these stories, we uncover research, books and oral histories that document the first 140 years of conflict and resistance.

Read Books About Race & History

While the list below contains a wide variety of educational anti-racism books (including some on racism in America), it's also important to read the stories of our own people to understand our history and how it still affects our society today. We recommend adding these to your reading list.
- Welcome To Country, Marcia Langton
- Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia, Anita Heiss
- Dark Emu, Bruce Pascoe
- City of Gold, Meyne Wyatt
- Kill the Messenger, Nakkiah Lui
- Tell Me Again by Dr Amy Thunig
- Dropbear by Evelyn Araluen
- Come Together by Isaiah Firebrace, Jaelyn Biumaiwai (picture book)
- Citizen, Claudia Rankine
- Biased, Jennifer L. Eberhardt
- When They Call You a Terrorist, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
- On the Other Side of Freedom, DeRay Mckesson
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Monument: Poems New and Selected, Natasha Trethewey
- The Tall Man, Chloe Hooper
- Talking To My Country, Stan Grant
- Terra Nullius, Claire G. Coleman
- The White Girl, Tony Birch

Watch Informative Videos

Here are some informative videos that will help non-Indigenous people to better understand the history of oppression, racism and suffering experienced by our First Nations Peoples. It's important that we hear these stories directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people to help us understand how we can be better allies and fight against racism.

Elevate First Nations Voices & Have The Tough Conversations

One part of recognising our privilege as non-Indigenous people living in Australia is recognising that sometimes, conversations about racism and discrimination are received with more open-mindedness than for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. 
“I think there are some tough conversations that, unfortunately, and as hard as it is for me to recognise and acknowledge this: there are some hard conversations in this country that need to be had that, unfortunately, I think are better taken when they come from non-Indigenous people,” says Schultz. 
“I know from experience that discussions on racism and discrimination are taken better and listened to more by other non-Indigenous people, when they come from a non Indigenous person, than when they come from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or somebody else from a culturally diverse background.
“So I think some of those difficult conversations need to be taken up and really moved forward by non-Indigenous peoples, which will then give us the space that we need to add what needs to be needed from an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander standpoint.”
It’s important to have these conversations with nuance and without removing important messages from cultural context. Ensuring that you are elevating the voices and words of First Nations people without alterations and without centring yourself is key here, as is seeking consent from First Nations people before inserting yourself into cultural events, and knowing when to step back, so you aren’t taking up space that belongs to First Nations people. 
This story was written to help better understand how non-Indigenous people can be better allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples. If you know of any important resources that we might have missed, please reach out to us here.
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