Oppression Olympics

by Nicole Brathwaite-Hunt My perspective is kind of unique, being a mixed-race person and actively operating in that.  I am not just living from my Indigenous side, but I am also a ceremonial person, a practitioner of sweat lodges and Sundance.  These different ceremonial pieces make up my Native being and walk. I have ceremony, and I am tasked by my elders to share that with whomever I am able.  I support my Black community and what they try to do by building spaces of equity. In walking in these ways, I am not only challenged by the colonial structures and white structures but also by Black and Indigenous colonization in those communities as well.  We call the fights that we have amongst ourselves and over who has it worse, so that we need to choose a side: “oppression Olympics”.  The sides I might need to choose could be Black vs Native or not operating in my Womanness, or all of the above. These past two years have been really challenging in this regard.  When I get invited to an event like this weekend at Agape, and I’m sitting back and listening, I’ve come to the realization that one of the pieces that needs to be supported in all of this activism is the spiritual piece. We need to be with each other in that spiritual cleansing place, so that when we go out into the world to do things, we have a little more power and connection. In Native spirituality, we don’t ask you to be anything else but who you are. You don’t have to convert to anything to come to our ceremonies. You bring with you who you are.  All we do is share our view, our path, our way. You take as much or as little of that as you choose to, whatever rings for you. I grew up in the Black church where my grandfather was a deacon and I was in church every day, on the usher board and in the choir.  I went to white Irish Catholic school during the day, so I understand a lot of the structures of religion. But the spirituality piece is a whole other thing. I really ring with my native side because I am not required to be “other” than connected to my Creator and be the best person I can be. That’s the requirement. If we remember that we’re connected to one another, the fact that I’m a mixed-race person really doesn’t mean anything because were all mixed-race people.  We drank the Kool-Aid of the machine that was set up to separate and divide us so some could be “othered” and minimalized and some could feel superior. Now we’re trying to dismantle this through re-Indigenization which means that if we got back to the way of the Indigenous people, we come back to an old way that’s now a new way.  This way is about loving the earth, loving each other. We are shards of the whole, and if we come back together, we become the whole again, balanced and connected. The old spiritual way means that you would not cut off your own foot, but you would cut off someone else’s if they were less than you or if you felt that you had to have a better place. My old way “walk” has really helped me when these confrontations of my being come up and challenge who I am. Some say that I am not Black enough because I am also walking in my Nativeness, like I’m trying to be something else. I’m not trying to be something else. I am me.  Some people can’t put that in a box, so it then becomes “othering.” I think a piece that I would offer would be that we should work to strengthen our inner peace, peace with our Creator, as much as we work to strengthen our outward activism.  Whatever your stream of belief is, there are many ways to get there. Nicole and her husband Rick have attended many Agape events, lending the gift of ceremony and drumming.  Nicole is a board member of the Worcester Intertribal Indian Center