Walking in two worlds is arduous when it feels like you are being pulled in different directions and pressured to identify as one thing over another. For a long time, I struggled with my identity of being Black Scotian and Mi’kmaw and felt uncomfortable sharing my identity whenever I introduced myself. One day someone asked me, “Which one of your grandmothers are you not going to honour today?” and I began reflecting on where my discomfort comes from.
When I was a little girl my family and I attended the Emancipation Festival at Harrison Park to honour our ancestors who travelled on the Underground Railroad. We would be surrounded by aunties, uncles, cousins and get to celebrate our community. My nana and I would read books, sing songs and she would share family stories that helped me feel a strong connection to my ancestors.
When it came to our Mi’kmaw culture, my grandparents knew very little, but they always reminded me to be proud. I could see it was something they wished they knew more about but were never given the opportunity. For years, I yearned to learn more about our people and our history and felt that an important part of my identity was missing. It wasn’t until I began building connections with people who share the same identities as me that I understood how Black Scotians and Mi’kmaq’s share a deep and complex history. Relationships were fostered to help ensure their survival by creating kinship ties and communities, however, colonization instilled anti-Black and anti-Indigenous beliefs, causing shame in their descendants that are racialized as Black. The Black Lives Matter Movement has sparked conversations, drawing attention to the ways anti-Black racism continues within Indigenous communities, often isolating Afro-Indigenous peoples and excluding them from accessing community and culture.
On social media, I have seen countless posts and comments from Indigenous peoples who are angry about the large amount of support and attention that the movement is receiving, claiming that it is derailing Indigenous History Month, and are angry that non-Indigenous people did not show the same amount of support for movements such as Standing Rock or Wet’suwet’en. As a dear friend, Shanese Steel, reminded me, when land and water defenders were fighting to protect Wet’suwet’en during Black History Month, many members from the Black community rallied and protested alongside Indigenous peoples without complaint. The foundations of North America were not made for Black and Indigenous bodies to succeed and current systems in place continue to perpetuate racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, As a result of this, there is no Indigenous self determination without Black liberation.
It is now time for Indigenous peoples to practice reciprocity and hold space for our Black relations who are fighting for their lives in a world that continuously tells them they do not matter. Indigenous peoples need to unpack their anger that is being targeted against a community who, much like Indigenous peoples, are disproportionately affected by state violence and colonization. We must analyze the anti-Black narratives that have been instilled within so many of our Nations and call in our aunties, uncles and family members and no longer tolerate our Afro-Indigenous and Black relations not being honoured.
I’m so proud of the young people who unapologetically proclaim their Afro-Indigeneity and are rightfully taking up their roles and responsibilities within culture and community. My hope is that our next seven generations will grow up in a world where they will not have to choose one identity over another, and they will feel solidified in their identities and know that they were loved.
Edited by Brittany Wylie, Ojibwe and Ashley Graham, Black and Haliwa-Saponi
Carrington Christmas is a Black Nova Scotian-Mi’kmaw Indigenous educator and youth advocate