Education is a priority for Emancipation Day activities in Yellowknife

Dozens of people gathered in Yellowknife’s Somba K’e Park on Monday to celebrate the strength and diversity of the region’s black community and to learn about what emancipation means.

On August 1, 1834, the Abolition of Slavery Act came into force, marking the end of slavery in the British Empire and freeing over 800,000 slaves in most British colonies, including Canada . In March 2021, the House of Commons of this country voted unanimously to designate the date as Emancipation Day.

According to Ambe Chenemu, president of the non-profit Black Advocacy Coalition (BACupNorth), many people don’t know what it means to be empowered.

“So we’re bringing in a few people from our community to talk about what this means to them personally and to share some short messages,” he told CBC News ahead of Monday’s event.

Jason Snaggs was one of the speakers at the event in Yellowknife.

“Systemic racism exists within our society. We see it in our government. We see it in our corporate cultures,” Snaggs told the crowd.

“We see it in everyday life. We need to identify it and eradicate it immediately.”

The event hosted by BACupNorth included speeches and messages about the history and significance of Emancipation Day. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

Snaggs spoke about the need for more education about the African presence in Canada and the Northwest Territories.

Johnelle Joseph was one of the participants. She was born in Jamaica, which commemorates Emancipation Day, and was surprised to learn that Canada is doing the same.

“I know for many other countries, individual countries in Africa and the Caribbean that have been enslaved, each of us has our own Emancipation Day,” she said.

“So I didn’t know Canada had it. So it was a revelation for us, and that’s why we came to see what it was.”

The Government of Canada website note that in the book Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Servitude Quebec historian Marcel Trudel estimated that approximately 4,200 Indigenous and Black people were enslaved between 1671 and 1831 in the region of Canada known as New France, and later in Upper and Lower Canada.

Dozens of people gathered at Somba K’e Park for the event which included speeches, music and a barbecue. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

Education still needed

Chenemu said it was important to explain the significance of the day, especially because the federal government only recently recognized the date.

“There’s still a lot of education to be done, not just here in the North, but across Canada,” he said.

“And I think what we’re doing here as a black advocacy group is doing our own part and playing our own part in getting the message out and also in finding those opportunities for discussion.”

The event included a barbecue, music and performances by local artists.

WATCH | The FreeUp! Emancipation Day Special 2022 streaming on CBC Gem:

Part of the 2 hour FreeUp! Special Emancipation Day. Freedom Talks is an energetic exploration of freedom with moving insights and panel discussions with some of Canada’s leading black creatives and creators of BIPOC culture, punctuated by heartfelt performances from Jully Black, TiKA and Measha Brueggergosman-Lee.

Sara H. Byrd