June 16, 2020

The Shared Weight of the Oppressor

Dustin Baird

Dustin Baird with his children and other students from Denver Public Schools at a Black Lives Matter march.  

Hau, Mitakuyape*  

I marched with students from Denver Public Schools, most of whom are not African American, to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the horrific murder of George Floyd. Honestly, I’m appalled that we as black and brown people are still fighting the systemic racism that is alive and well in this country.  

I am an enrolled member of the Oceti Sakowin, the seven council fires of the Lakota. These past weeks have reminded me that from the inception of the United States, our timeline as Native Americans has run parallel with the timeline of our Hasapa (black) relatives when it comes to the gross mistreatment of this country and especially its judicial system, which so often works against us.  

As I examine our histories, I see that that our timelines have also merged during critical times when we needed to lean on each other because the weight of the oppressor was too much, starting in the southern and eastern parts of the United States when Native Americans hid runaway slaves. This alliance would show itself again years later, when in 1973 during the Wounded Knee occupation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, the Black Panthers showed up to lend their support.  

Our paths have merged once again as we protest together on behalf of Mr. George Floyd and in support of racial equality.  

Enterprise’s work is premised on the truth that we may have similar goals in life, but not the same opportunities – and where you live affects the life you can have. For a short period during the early part of my life, I lived in one of the worst housing clusters in America on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. I and others were lucky to catch a few breaks in life and make it out of those conditions. But unfortunately, the same isn’t true for a lot of my black and brown relatives.  

Housing affects everything – especially health – and the health disparities in our Native American communities are stark. I am approaching the estimated end of my life expectancy – which for males on the Pine Ridge reservation is 46 to 48 years of age. I am very fortunate to be alive but so many of my brothers and sisters aren’t.  

Racial inequity is everywhere, including housing, and I am grateful to be part of an organization that understands these issues and is working toward a better future for black and brown children.  

*My relatives 

Dustin BairdDustin Baird is a Native Housing program officer with Enterprise Community Partners. He is based in Denver. 

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