Black and Indigenous communities in the North gear up to celebrate Emancipation Day

Musicians and dancers from across the territories to perform Saturday

Clayton Greaves, a former resident of Iqaluit, will host the first official Emancipation Day event for Canada’s territories on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Bernard)

By Mélanie Ritchot

A celebration showcasing over a dozen performers from Canada’s territories will mark the first Emancipation Day to be recognized by the federal government.

In March, the House of Commons voted to officially mark Aug. 1 — the day slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire, including what’s now Canada, in 1834 — as a day for education and reflection of that legacy.

“We were exceptionally happy to see it pass,” said Stephanie Bernard, president of the Nunavut Black History Society, which is hosting the event in partnership with Alianait Arts Festival, with funding from Heritage Canada.

Musicians, poets, DJs and other artists from Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories will perform virtually for about two hours Saturday evening.

“There’s been absolute excitement from people wanting to take part,” said Bernard.

The lineup includes Nunavut’s Mary-Lee Sandy-Aliyak, Jo-Anne Henderson White, Dena Zagi from the Yukon and YK Dance from the N.W.T., among others.

Iqaluit’s Inukshuk High School Dancers will also perform at the virtual event.

Bernard said the lineup “is very, very mixed and representative of the territories.”

The event, she said, also has an awareness-building component to it and will include teachings about Black history. For example, Bernard says she’s heard people mistakenly claim there was no slavery in Canada, and that there is no Black history in the North.

“This event will answer all of those [misunderstandings],” she said.

Black and Indigenous peoples were both once kept as slaves in Canada, according to a report called Slavery in Canada, published in 2020 by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

“It remains a topic that is little known across the country,” it states.

It’s hard to know just how many Black and Indigenous peoples were enslaved in Canada, according to the Canadian Commission, since not all information was recorded, but the first Black slave in the country arrived in Quebec 1654.

The report states that historian Marcel Trudel counted 4,185 people who were enslaved in Quebec alone, two-thirds being Indigenous and one-third being Black.

Britain’s Slavery Abolition Act came into effect on Aug. 1, 1834, signifying the end of slavery throughout its empire.

Back in Iqaluit, Bernard says the Black community in Iqaluit is very happy Emancipation Day was made official in Canada, but she says she wants to also see meaningful change.

“We don’t just want to see tokenism, we want to see some hard action,” she said.

This weekend’s event can be streamed on YouTube and Facebook at 6 p.m ET.

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(20) Comments:

  1. Posted by No Moniker on

    So, slavery in the British Empire was ended in 1834, 187 years ago, and the above article above is telling us that this event, which is built on that event, is a call for meaningful change, hard action, etc… this is where I really wish Nunatsiaq would do more than just pump out these thinly written articles and probe into the real meaning of an issue. I can’t be the only one a little confused as to what is being asked for here?

    • Posted by Emancipate on

      What you are missing is that this crime against humanity needs to be remembered. You also need to understand that slavery still affects how people are treated and seen today. Horrible historical occurences are honoured and remembered to remind people of how terrible they were. How they tortured, degraded and dehumanized others. Their absolute harm, so that they will never be repeated again.

      And even if institutionalized legal slavery was removed forms of slavery still continue even today that affect people of all races. Basically that was what residential school was. A form of slavery in more modern time. So that is the reason. We all must be able to empathize with each other and educate ourselves to ensure we know when something even looks close to it.

      • Posted by No Moniker on

        But slavery is still happening, we certainly don’t need to look back two centuries before Canada existed to find it in the world. Doesn’t that falsify the idea that commemorating its historic occurrence will prevent it from recurring? Similarly, commemorating the holocaust seems to have done nothing to slow genocide in the decades following and into the present either. I’m not suggesting it should not be remembered, but your line of reasoning isn’t that compelling.

        Is it possible that a more important dimension to this is the sense of shared community that comes from connecting these various grievance groups?

        • Posted by Kabuki Theatre on

          I think you nailed it No Moniker. There is obviously a lot of mental energy being spent on fanning the flame of a indignation over slavery in Canada considering it happened in… let me double check, 1654?

          Wow, time flies… it feels like only yesterday

          Meanwhile tens of millions are enslaved around the world, I bet these folks couldn’t tell you much or anything about them because their only mission is to gather together as in a church and sing songs about their oppression, revelling in the warm glow of victimhood and pretending to be a community of sufferers.

          • Posted by Mr. INUK on

            Has slavery actually ended in Canada? Canada really needs to look back and think about it. The physical primary slavery might not be there any longer but secondary one still exists and getting bigger everyday in Canada especially in Nunavut where it is not in anyway being checked.

            • Posted by More Info Please on

              I am aware that First Nations historically kept slaves but I’m not aware of Inuit as slaveholders.

              Could you tell us more about this “secondary slavery” that you refer to?

            • Posted by Curious on

              Dear Mr. Inuk, this is a fascinating comment, can you expand on its meaning for us?

        • Posted by A Common Thing Among Us on

          When I was younger I lived and worked in countries where slavery was still legal in my lifetime. It was seen by many as the natural order of things.

          Sadly, that mindset and the attendant institution is common among humans.

  2. Posted by Emancipate on

    And to specifically answer your question I think what is being asked for is more action on addressing racism and discrimination in real tangible ways in Canada. Not just by designating days (although these are also very important). Black Canadians are hoping this is just the first step is what I am understanding.

    • Posted by No Monmiker on

      Okay, so what in your opinion is a tangible way, or hard action that could be taken to address racism in Canada today?

    • Posted by Tell us more on

      Modern day Canada is less racist now than it has ever been, though racism clearly still exists.

      I’d like to know too, what is a tangible action against racism? We hear terms like these used a lot, but rarely do the people who utter these sounds ever explain what they mean in, ironically, tangible ways.

  3. Posted by Larry on

    I hope everyone knows about this great event. Congratulations to all those involved in organizing and volunteering for the event.

    Larry Bagnell MP

  4. Posted by Closer to home on

    Didn’t Inuit in Nunavut used to give children to old people to be their servants and look after them? That practice was still openly going on in some regions in the 1990’s, not sure when it ended, but it seems to have either ended or be done very quietly, people are no longer open about it. There are adults to this day that constrict their lives and turn down or don’t seek out opportunities because of ties to the elders or families that they were given to to serve, they feel beholden to them. It seems that once again Nunavut is happy to point fingers at the imperfections of the outside world, while quietly ignoring the problems in their own territory.

    • Posted by Careful There on

      Ssssshhhh, you’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud.

    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      Goodness we are sure in rush to condemn the Inuit, why don’t you just come out and say I hate Inuit. Whoever you are, you should be condemning societies that have sex slaves and many of these races are now part of Canadian and Iqaluit population. Inuit are the new low class figures to most new Canadian, sad.

      • Posted by Church and Racism on

        @Boris Pasternak Are you involved with one of the local churches here in Iqaluit?
        Your anti-immigrant rhetoric isn’t very inclusive, I don’t think Jesus would approve.

      • Posted by Old Faithful on

        Ah, anti-immigrant bigotry – one of the most reliable attitudes in Nunavut’s population.

  5. Posted by Chesley Mesher on

    A Modern turn and use of slavery is the debt economy. Massively wealthy business snare legions of workers into poverty wages only to increase their, the business’s wealth. The real estate market is being used today for such purpose, more so in the States. Gov. And Business there have collaborated to price workers out of the market, to never be able to own a house and home despite being a full time employee.

    • Posted by iWonder on

      We’ve spotted the Marxist critique, but is it actually true?

      • Posted by Reality on

        Yes, it is true. Large investment firms have literally bought up billions of dollars of family homes (not just apartment buildings) this year to effectively jack up the market and price families out of ever owning their own home. It was on the news and it’s happening here in Canada not just the US.


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