Oscar Wants a Library for Elsipogtog: Meet Wicked Ideas’ new journalist.

Written by Oscar Baker

Oscar is an award-winning multimedia reporter from Elsipogtog First Nation and St. Augustine, Fla. Winner of the David Adams Richards award for non-fiction writing for The Violent Ones. Follow him on Twitter @oggycane4lyfe

November 22, 2017

I was just a toddler when I’d ask mom to tell me the story of Moses again and again. I’d be sitting bedside with my little brown feet swaying, wide eyed as I heard  the tale of Moses floating away in a basket surrounded by reeds.

When I was seven I was already aware of domestic violence, alcohol abuse and suicide. The poverty in my community made everything bleak and sombre. Sure there were tender moments when I’d laugh and felt loved, but the creeping feeling of desperation was always under the surface. My escape from it all was reading “Lost in the Barrens,” with Farley Mowatt’s characters, canoeing the great north instead of surviving Elsipogtog.

I was bullied for being part black, and apparently I wanted to be a priest as a kid. When kids wanted to do childish crimes, I’d remind them that God didn’t like that. Reading made me feel normal it’s where I could get lost in my own mind.

I want a library because, like sports helps athletes escape, reading and writing helps to free my mind. I know reading won’t solve all my reserve’s problems; domestic violence, sexual assault, missing and murdered women, child molestation and substance abuse problems. But I love that my community is filled with survivors. Many of us have survived child abuse, neglect, assaults, loved ones committing suicide, but all of us survived a government that worked to destroy us and our ancestors.

I feel my community needs a library because it’s so desperate here and reading is a healthy escape.

Research indicates there is a direct link between substance abuse and childhood trauma. Cloaked in trauma many without the right support systems may turn to drugs, alcohol or other activities to escape their bleak existence. I’m not here to cast a shadow that everyone in my community has substance struggles or childhood trauma, but there certainly are too many.

I was asked to tell people about myself, what I liked about my community and what I wanted to see changed. I’m truly embarrassed to say but I had no answers for what I liked about my community. I look out my window and see desperate people trying to find a way. And the faults of my community: I want to see a library. There are six bars that service a community of just over 3,000 people. And it pains me that we don’t offer books and the escape of imagination.  

Unfortunately being part of an isolated community means there aren’t a ton of outlets. As a young adult aside from the bars, a gym and a hockey rink there’s no places for fun. I’m a writer and a creative, and I’ll although my waist band says I need the gym, I prefer coffee, reading and a safe place to just chat.

Beyond being an escape reading helps to improve literacy rates, which is desperately needed for First Nation people who chronically fall below the Canadian average on educational attainment, literacy and numeracy according to Statistics Canada. Numerous research reports conclude that parents reading with their children enhances language and literacy skills.

There are too many problems to tackle and our leaders are often overwhelmed, avenues feel exhausted. But expanding minds and sober activities would go a long way. Instead of businesses profiting off someone’s addiction maybe a business can be there to help people learn.

Please check out Oscar’s recent long-form piece for CBC New Brunswick on Elsipogtog First Nation’s legal assertion of Aboriginal title to one-third of New Brunswick, entitled “A Mi’kmaq Seat at the Table and his previous work found on his website including The Violent Ones, a personal essay that won Oscar the David Adams Richards Award for non-fiction writing from St. Thomas University.

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