Commentary: Who has it worse is the wrong question; ask how to work together to make it better

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

March 13, 2018

People under oppression should be kind to one another because any form of oppression bends the soul.

I hate seeing people use my family’s pain as stories to say Canada isn’t as oppressive to Indigenous people as the United States is to the Black population. My mother was Mi’kmaw from Elsipogtog First Nation and my father is a Black man from St. Augustine, Fl. My mother told me her parents had trouble buying food off reserve because they didn’t sell to savages and my father told me about how the KKK would burn tires on the porches of Blacks in his neighbourhood.

Whenever tragedy strikes the Indigenous population in Canada the instinct is to compare whether Canada’s treatment is better or worse than Blacks in the U.S. It’s a wonderful illusion to trick minds into thinking that somehow a violation of a human right isn’t as egregious because somewhere in the world it’s more intense.

I’ve heard first hand stories of how both governments in Canada and the U.S. systematically and intentionally enacted laws trying to destroy the lives of my ancestors and my family. I fully understand Canada tried to stamp out the languages, cultures and Indigenous people through government policies. And the United States has unequivocally tried to destroy Black people root and stem. Who has it worse the Indigenous population in Canada or the Black population in the United States? Like oppression is some pitiful game of where the winner suffers more.

But the forgotten voices in these discussions are often Black people in Canada or Indigenous peoples in the United States. I hate to remind people but many of the problems facing both minorities are present in their North American counterparts. Black people in Canada still face prejudice and racism. And Indigenous populations are almost a completely forgotten narrative in the United States.

But the whole shame of it all is that both countries have tried to roll over all people of colour. It hurts my heart to hear my Mi’kmaq family crying out that the Black issues in America have more air time because undoubtedly both have been ignored for far too long. The system isn’t fair and I believe more Mi’kmaq stories should be told but accusation of unfairness shouldn’t be leveled at another oppressed group. I feel it should be directed at the oppressors. And the powers on top would rather see us fighting.

Blacks in North America have a tale where bodies lined the street and our deaths became entertain through public lynchings amid slavery and now through online videos of Black bodies in the street. My people’s pain is real and both voices have been ignored for far too long. I don’t want to mitigate the need for either voice. Rather I’d say we have a lot in common, a shared pain that stretches centuries. My hope is we can stop arguing who has it worse and work together to end the pain.

Historically we were there for each other. Some Indigenous communities were instrumental in the Underground Railroad. In my own experience I’ve faced racial slurs from my own community. I grew up feeling too Black for my Mi’kmaq home and to light for my Black home in Florida.

I know both communities hold a lot of love, I just wish the love could be expressed to all those under the boot of oppression.


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