In the fall of 2016, Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots located in Edmonton, received a grant from the Human Rights Commission to conduct the following project: Stories of Pioneer African American Canadians as a Catalyst for Reconciliation.
The primary purpose of the project was to document and reclaim the stories of second and third generation African American Canadians whose families migrated from Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, and other states to the prairie provinces, particularly those who settled in Alberta and Saskatchewan between the years of 1905 and 1921.
A second goal of the project was to explore the experiences of Black settlers and their descendants who were recipients of racist and discriminatory behaviour and how they dealt with these forms of oppression while residing in the provinces, here on the prairie.
A final expectation of the project was to increase awareness of the presence and experiences of the African Americans who settled on the prairies in the early 20th century.
Dr. Este conducted a thematic analysis of the data which resulted in a publication submitted to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, and that publication is also in the process of being adapted for a series as a scholarly journal.
Dr. Este’s work acknowledged that anti-Black racism has existed in Canada prior to and since Confederation.
A central theme of the research done stresses that anti-Black racism exists in Canadian immigration, legal, education, child welfare and health systems, signifying that this form of oppression is institutionalized in nature.
Several project participants described racism while they resided in Edmonton that included employment, education, and general public incidents.
The forms of anti-Black racism that this community faced residing in the city of Edmonton contributes to the destruction of the mythology of Canada as a colour-blind society. The sharing of the participants’ encounters with racism represents another important contribution to understanding the African Canadian experience.
Now, recent publications such as Robyn Maynard’s 2017 "Policing Black Lives: State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present" and the United Nation Human Rights Council 2017 report stress that African Canadians continue to bear the consequences associated with the manifestations of anti-Black racism in the country.
This project has opened the door to start a conversation regarding a nearly invisible group of immigrants who are, now, in their 6th and 7th generation here in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
This group has endured prejudice, discrimination and many injustices known to the public at large. Knowledge leads to change. We hope that by having more people view the documentary and attend SCMR speaking engagements there will be greater increase in public knowledge of the results of this project.
Our aim was to initiate changes that lead to full participation and inclusion. Descendants of Black Alberta Pioneers have been able to share stories of historical and contemporary discrimination in Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan for the purpose of changing the situation.
This important history needs to be acknowledged and shared in an effort to help eliminate systematic discrimination, marginalization, injustice and prejudice still being done to visible minorities here in Western Canada and other areas in our country.
Now, I'd like you to view some of these people, some excerpts from our film, We are the Roots. Here's our trailer. Thank you.
"There was a callout from Canada to the United States for people to come and homestead here in Alberta. They put us in places where they thought we'd never succeed, in the small settlements, but in spite of, we succeeded.
It was some hard times. You had to clear so much land every year and all they had was horses and oxen to work with.
What I did all my life at that time was housework. We had such a hard time because nobody wanted us to progress. If you started to show any progress, you'd lose a job.
Even if you had reasonable skills, it was still hard to get a job, you know, just because of race.
I think for us, it's just part of our lives, right? It's part of what makes us strong people.
We just want to tell our story and the struggles that we had. And to make sure that our history isn't forgotten."
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