This statement issued on August 1, Emancipation Day, is published here with permission.
Today as we mark Emancipation Day, we call on the Government of Canada to make 2020 the last year that this important event in history of Canada goes unrecognized.
Emancipation Day is the day that slavery was abolished within the British Empire, including the territories that came to be known as Canada. Slavery of trafficked Africans was introduced by colonists into the territories of Canada in the 1600s. The practice of slavery was also inflicted on Indigenous Peoples and continued for hundreds of years until it was abolished on August 1, 1834.
As members of the Black Diaspora and of the Samahquam First Nation respectively, we recognise that our shared experience of slavery serves to underline the parallels between our people’s histories and to strengthen our allyship. We acknowledge the profoundly damaging legacy of colonialism and the ongoing impact of racism which continues to affect our Peoples. We stand together in support of the ongoing and powerful calls for racial justice.
However, we have never allowed our oppression to define us. Emancipation Day is our opportunity to recognise the outstanding contributions of Black and Indigenous Peoples in every field of human endeavour, made all the more remarkable given the legacy of slavery. On this day, we come together to celebrate our achievements, cultures, traditions, innovation, and leadership through artistic expression, including music, theatre, spoken word and dance.
For almost 200 years Emancipation Day has gone generally un-commemorated, and untaught, though people of African Descent have lived in Canada since the transatlantic slave trade and the Indigenous Peoples of these territories pre-date the colonialists. Shared histories, just like personal memories, can only exist when we solidify them through re-telling. To keep Emancipation Day unacknowledged nationally is to diminish our experiences, and to erase history.
Commemoration of Emancipation Day and education regarding slavery is particularly important given that the existence of systemic anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism in education, housing, employment, health, criminal justice, politics and other areas can be directly traced to the history of slavery and colonialism in Canada. Black Canadians and Indigenous Peoples across Turtle Island continue to see the theft of land, the eradication of our cultures and disproportionate environmental impacts.
This Emancipation Day, we voice our continued support for calls to action. We seek the enaction of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We call on the Government of Canada to enact the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to implement the recommendations of the Report of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on its Mission to Canada.
Supporting Indigenous decision-making is key to fighting racism, the climate emergency and biodiversity loss. Empowering Black voices is key to reflecting our true history. Just as Indigenous laws are Law, Black history is Canadian history.
Join us today in celebration of the power and accomplishments of our communities, and we invite you to add your voice to the calls to have the Government of Canada proclaim August 1 as Emancipation Day, and to celebrate it on that day each year.
Annamie Paul, a candidate for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada, lives in Toronto. Racelle Kooy, a community engagement specialist, facilitator and member of Samahquam First Nation, lives in Victoria. This statement was originally published on annamiepaul.ca.