Two-day Emancipation Day fest a chance to celebrate culture, freedom

Nunavut Black History Society holds event that includes music, arts and crafts

Shoyomi Abosede,a member of the Nunavut Black History Society, at the 2022 fashion show hosted earlier this year. Abosede was showcasing traditional clothes from Nigeria. (Photo courtesy of the Nunavut Black History Society)

By Meral Jamal

Iqaluit’s first-ever Emancipation Day festival this weekend will be a “celebration of all the things we have accomplished,” says Steven White, a director and one of the coordinators of the two-day event.

Steven White with his partner, Jo-Anne Henderson-White, at a fashion show hosted by the Nunavut Black History Society earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of the Nunavut Black History Society)

The Nunavut Black History Society is hosting the event that honours the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire.

On Saturday, it will be held at the Astro Theatre in Iqaluit. Vendors, including a designers bazaar to share arts and crafts, will be set up from 4 to 9 p.m. and then entertainment as part of World Stage Night runs from 6 to 9 p.m.

On Sunday, events shift to Cadet Hall. Vendors will again set up from 4 to 9 p.m. and live entertainment from 6 to 9 p.m. follows an urban beats theme.

Festivities include a diverse lineup of musical entertainment such as afrobeats, urban soul and reggae from notable artists like Shauna Seeteenak, Young Keen, Safi Madeba and Musbe Black.

The Nunavut Black History Society said the events are free and open to everyone, and members hope the community will join in.

Last year, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate Aug. 1 — the date in 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Act came into effect — as Emancipation Day.

The passing of the act then led to the freeing of more than 800,000 enslaved Africans and their descendants in Canada, parts of the Caribbean, Africa and South America.

The Nunavut society has celebrated Black History Month in February in the past through events like fashion shows and movie screenings.

White said the celebration this weekend in Iqaluit will honour the freedom and independence of people of African descent.

Through music and dance, he said he hopes Canadians of African descent in Nunavut are able to “express ourselves.” According to 2016 census data, the Black community in Nunavut numbers approximately 325 people.

“We don’t need words,” White said. “We have used music and dance for communication, important ceremonies and celebrating different things.

“This is what freedom is like — a free people should be able to express themselves and be included.”

The festival is being held now, rather than closer to the official Aug. 1 day, because many people were away or on holidays during the summer.

White said the celebration of emancipation is important, especially in light of how people of African descent continue to face systemic oppression across the world.

A prominent example continues to be the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer in the summer of 2020, which spurred protests against police brutality across Canada and in Iqaluit as well.

“We do recognize there’s a lot of work left to be done. We do recognize there have been still many challenges or hurdles to overcome when it comes to racial harmony,” White said. “But we see both sides.

“We have to celebrate the achievements, and that’s what [celebrating] emancipation does. This festival is a celebration of all the things we have accomplished.”


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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by The Quiet Part – Out Loud on

    The abolition of slavery was one of Britain’s great achievements, among many.

    • Posted by Really? on

      To release your slaves is no achievement.

      • Posted by Simpleton Noted on

        Your comment betrays a mind ignorant of what true history is actually like… but you wouldn’t know that because you probably get your news off tweets. Am I right?


    Slavery has existed since ancient times throughout the whole world.
    Although Britain ended slavery almost 200 years ago, working conditions for the Brits were
    absolutely hellish until the 1950’s.
    No one wants to mention the empires who had millions of slaves way before White people.
    We should be helping people who are still enslaved.

    • Posted by Unmuted on

      Indeed, it is thought that the oldest slave societies emerged in Mesopotamia around 6,000 years ago.

      Today it is estimated that there are 21 to 45 million people still enslaved, many of these in Africa and Asia.

    • Posted by Really? on

      Slavery existed even in the bible true. But not chattel slavery. The slavery everywhere else except handed down during the transatlantic slave trade did not make slaves dehumanized and were not by far as brutal. The only slavery close to the transatlantic slave trade in brutality was the Arab slave trade. Yet still it did not compare.


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