Indigenous

'We need to be here for each other,' say Indigenous supporters of Black Lives Matter

Across the country many Indigenous people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the fight against racism.

Advocates point to communities' intertwined histories and impacts of colonialism

'Let's work together to end colonialism because there's no other groups in North America that have been as impacted as black or Indigenous people by colonialism,' says Joy Henderson. (Submitted by Joy Henderson)

Across the country many Indigenous people are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in the fight against racism.

"It is time for us to come together and fight for our struggles, and that means more than just dialogue, but showing up," said Jade Byard-Peek.

Byard-Peek is black and Mi'kmaw, two-spirit, queer and trans woman, and the director of community care and advocacy at Kind Space in Ottawa. 

"This is not the time to take it away from Black Lives Matter, this is a time to recognize how our own histories intersect." said Byard-Peek. 

She said the history of black and Indigenous communities in Canada is complex and intertwined, reaching back hundreds of years on the East Coast, but that it has been skewed and forgotten in the education system. 

After the war of 1812, descendants of American slaves settled in Halifax in an area that became known as Africville, which situated black people as displaced Indigenous people with no land to return to. 

Byard-Peek said while Africville is the most notable East Coast black settlement, there were many black communities located near Mi'kmaq reserves.

"There's a willful blindness in Canada to overlook Indigenous issues and black issues," she said.

She added that both communities are often blamed for what is happening to them.

"You see that time and time again with articles blaming this toxicity within someone's system at their time of death or their history with violence, which should never be relevant when someone is murdered in cold blood," she said. 

Instead of reactionary mobilization, Byard-Peek said it's time to organize with strategies based on both black and Indigenous healing practices.

"We only react when we're angry and we only react when we have no things left, and then we allow things to go back to normal," she said. 

"It needs to begin with healing because we are wounded."

'Undercurrent' of anti-black racism in Indigenous communities

As many people offer support and solidarity through marches and online social media campaigns, there has also been an inflammation of anti-black racism within some Indigenous groups.

"It's always kind of an undercurrent," said Joy Henderson, who is an Afro-Indigenous woman with Lakota and Anishinaabe heritage based in Toronto.

Henderson points to instances where people who are both black and Indigenous are asked to verify their Indigeneity because they present as black, and conversations in Facebook groups where people are answering back to the Black Lives Matter movement that Indigenous lives matter, too. 

Jade Byard-Peek says that both black and Indigenous communities are often blamed for what is happening to them. (Submitted by Jade Byard-Peek)

Henderson said oppression from colonialism has made it so both black and Indigenous people are just trying to survive, meaning there can be a focus on their own struggles. 

"Let's work together to end colonialism because there's no other groups in North America that have been as impacted as black or Indigenous people by colonialism," she said. 

Running to get the conversation going

This week 22-year old Katia Ferderber spent two days running to raise awareness for Black Lives Matter in Elliot Lake, Ont. 

Ferderber, who is Anishinaabe, said that with everything she's been seeing happening in the United States and Canada, she felt angry and sad. 

"I can see that my black friends are exhausted and in grief. They're really overwhelmed," she said.

"I just felt like I needed to get the conversation going on here."

She said she's educated herself on what's happening in the world, signed petitions and donated, but said she felt like there was something that she needed to do physically. 

"And so I just decided to wake up on Sunday morning and run."

On Sunday she ran 14 kilometres and on Monday, 11.8 kilometres, receiving honks of support from drivers and positive messages on Facebook.

"As Indigenous people, we know what it's like to be discriminated against and to get those racist remarks but we will never know what it's like to be black and it's important for us to educate ourselves on that," she said.

"They have stood by us, too, and we need to stand behind them. We need to be here for each other."

About the Author

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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