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White Savior

Updated: Feb 6

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting our local university to speak to one of their classes: about my career in dentistry, my work in remote First Nations communities, and why I felt compelled to create Culturally Committed. I always jump at opportunities to speak about dental therapy (it's an amazing career, ​learn more here!​), and in particular, how truly l fortunate I feel for the ability to work in community. I value the relationships that have blossomed, and recognize what a privilege it is to be invited to witness culture while interacting with people I care about very, very much.

During the Q&A session at the conclusion of my presentation, a student in the front row raised her hand, inquiring about the term "White Savior" and asked how I navigate my work to avoid assuming that role. Such questions trigger a sense of insecurity within me. The initial hesitance I felt about establishing Culturally Committed was rooted in fear, questioning the appropriateness of a white woman taking on this work. At the time, I genuinely believed it wasn't.

A few days later, I stumbled upon a ​blog post​ by Andrea Menard, a Metis Legal Scholar and Lawyer, addressing the concept of White Saviorism. It felt serendipitous, and she granted me permission to share her perspectives on this term with you today. In exploring the complexities of my work, Menard's insights resonated deeply with my reflections.

"White saviorism is a pervasive and complex phenomenon that has significant implications for Indigenous peoples’ struggles for sovereignty, empowerment, and decolonization," she argues. "By positioning white individuals as the primary agents of change and saviors of Indigenous communities, white saviorism undermines the efforts toward genuine Indigenization."

Indigenization, Menard explains, represents a comprehensive and profound effort to integrate Indigenous knowledge, teachings, languages, and practices into various societal sectors. However, the journey toward Indigenization has been convoluted by the emergence of white saviorism—a neocolonial tactic that maintains white dominance and hinders the realization of Indigenization by silencing Indigenous voices and invalidating Indigenous agency.

Our work at Culturally Committed is conducted in partnership, guided by our mentors. We are dedicated to amplifying Indigenous voices, showcasing the beauty and strength inherent in Indigenous cultures, all while striving to instigate change in those who are just beginning their journey toward reconciliation. This undertaking can be challenging and unsettling.

I am wholeheartedly committed to this work, while acknowledging mine is an imperfect journey. Questions like the student asked provide an opportunity for me to be reflective about the work I am doing, and I am grateful for that. It motivates me to check myself and confirm I am on the right track. I extend my deep gratitude to the mentors who support me and guide our work, helping me make corrections when I need to, without judgment or questioning my intentions. I will persist in this work as long as I am called upon to do so. That is my responsibility in my pursuit of allyship.

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