Nunavut Black History Society honours Canada’s 1st female Black federal minister

Jean Augustine presented with Sankofa Lifetime Achievement Award

The Nunavut Black History Society presented Jean Augustine via videoconference with a Sankofa Lifetime Achievement Award on Feb. 7, during the opening ceremony of their Black History Month celebrations. (Photo by Dustin Patar)

By Dustin Patar

Updated Feb. 18 at 7:22 a.m.

Jean Augustine’s career has always been larger than life, but on Feb. 7 her on-screen appearance at the Astro Theatre in Iqaluit was just that.

The former federal minister who, among many things, helped designate February as Black History Month in Canada, was awarded the Nunavut Black History Society’s Sankofa Lifetime Achievement Award.

“I’m so very pleased,” said Augustine. “I will have my Sankofa, when it reaches me, in a place where I can show it when I make my speeches on Zoom.”

The audience, noting Augustine’s large collection of African art behind her, burst into laughter.

Among those in attendance were Bardish Chagger, the federal minister of diversity, inclusion and youth; Margaret Nakashuk, Nunavut’s minister of culture and heritage; and Winston LaRose, the inaugural recipient of the Sankofa Lifetime Achievement Award.

While the award will join many others Augustine has earned over her career, the form, meaning and significance of the Sankofa was not lost on her.

The word Sankofa is a sacred ancestral term from the Akan people of Ghana, in West Africa, which translates to, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward.”

The figurines on the award itself depict a mythical bird with its feet firmly planted forward and its head turned backwards.

“This is the way we have to move,” said Augustine.

“What can we do today with the knowledge that we brought from the past? And how can that knowledge help us to move forward.”

Augustine also took the opportunity to echo a point she made during her last visit to Iqaluit two years ago.

“Black History Month is not just for Black people,” she said.

“We need to know each other, we need to understand each other, we need to be able to work together.”

While Augustine would elaborate on more than a dozen ways to advance social justice, the theme of her keynote address, she circled back to events earlier in the night, including the lighting of a qulliq and the pouring of a libation.

“That’s the way we ensure that we know each other, that we are partners and we are allies,” she said.

Among the other Sankofa awards presented at the ceremony were:

  • Community Collaborator Award – deputy mayor Janet Brewster
  • Social Justice Award – Clayton Greaves, board member with the Nunavut Black History Society
  • Volunteer Achievement Award – Milton Grace
  • African Descent Person of Excellence in Nunavut Award – Camilius Chike Egeni

Festivities to honour the legacy and contributions of Black Canadians will run throughout the month and continue into March. Here is a full list of the upcoming events:

  • Thursday, Feb 18: Screening of Hero
  • Sunday, Feb. 21, 28: The African and Caribbean Association of Nunavut will be hosting an afternoon of board games, including Mancala, Ludo, Dominos and the Inuit-designed Nunami. Due to limited space, festivities will be taking place at both the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, Ecole des Trois-Soleils and Frobisher Inn between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Refreshments will be served and masks are mandatory.
  • Feb. 15 to 26: Black fusion dance workshops
  • Sunday, Feb. 21: Virtual public mental health talk
  • Thursday, Feb 25: Screening of Honour Before Glory
  • Thursday, Mar. 4: Screening of Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess
  • Thursday, Mar. 11: Discussion on “Colonialism — Haiti, the Blueprint to Black Power,” followed by a screening of a film relevant to the talk
  • Sunday, Mar. 14: F.U.B.U fashion show

All Black History Month Film Festival screenings will be held at the Astro Theatre and will begin at 6 p.m.

This story has been corrected to indicate Jean Augustine was Canada’s first female Black federal minister.

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(5) Comments:

  1. Posted by Ben on

    Just wanted to note that the headline is incorrect. The Honourable Jean Augustine was not the first black federal minister. The first black federal minister was the Honourable Lincoln Alexnder.

  2. Posted by Congratulations on

    It’s not far off (the headline). Just add female and it is a totally correct headline. She was the first Black female federal minister. She basically is the reason we can celebrate Black History Month federally in Canada. She was also the first Black Canadian to occupy the Speaker’s Chair in the Canadian House of Commons. This woman is a legend! Well done Nunavut Black History Society! Amazing article Nunatsiaq!

    • Posted by Ben on

      All good points about the Honourable Jean Augustine’s achievements. Just happy the correction was made. Facts are important in this day and age and now the article title reflects those facts.

      • Posted by Congratulations on

        No issue at all with you pointing this out. Just helping the author and adding to the importance of Jean Augustine.

  3. Posted by Team Augustine on

    Wow, it is so good to see a woman such as Jean Augustine recognized. She has done so much for Canada, Black people in Canada and Black History Month. I went to the Nunavut Black History Society opening ceremony the first time she was here in Iqaluit and wow it took about 20 minutes just to read her accomplishments! Well done to the NBHS for giving her a lifetime achievement award!

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