New documentary showcases Black history in the Prairies

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A group of university scholars has come together to create resources for teachers in Alberta to illustrate the history and identities of Black people across the province. As Emily Olsen reports, they say this foundation is crucial to better understanding who we all are and where we come from – Jan 20, 2021

A group of university scholars is creating resources for teachers in Alberta to illustrate the history and identities of Black people across the province.

Collaborators from the University of Calgary, the University of Lethbridge and other organizations have created a new documentary called “We are the Roots,” showcasing the unique experiences and contributions of Black Albertans.

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“Hopefully, people walk away with a sense of the Black presence here in Alberta,” University of Calgary adjunct professor of social work David Este said. “I also hope people realize the extent of racism and the daily lived experiences of racism that people have had to live with since their arrival in Canada.”

Nineteen people were interviewed about their lived experiences with systemic oppression across the region.

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Collaborators hope it shines a light on the parts of Alberta’s past that aren’t included in school curriculum — including the strong presence and previous government support of hate groups such as the KKK, as shown in the documentary.

“If they know about the roots of the discrimination with this large group of people that are racialized, I think that sets the foundation for expecting equity and equality and human rights,” president of the Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots Deborah Dobbins said.

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Belinda Crowson, president of the Lethbridge Historical Society, said new stories of Black identities in Alberta may not be readily accepted but are crucial to providing a richer context for the province’s complex history.

“It’s convenient to tell that general story… People came, they settled, they did this,” Crowson said. “But that’s where we’re missing the fascinating parts of who we are as people and how people chose to come here and what they overcame.“

She said the Lethbridge Historical Society has been focused on identifying and preserving the stories of Black families and fur traders who were important parts of the city’s creation and often overlooked in their unique experiences.

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Creators say the documentary and accompanying classroom materials will be available to Alberta teachers this year.

“It doesn’t mean that it’s being put into the curriculum,” explained Jenna Bailey, University of Lethbridge adjunct assistant history professor. “It means it’s being marketed to teachers to use if they want.”

It’s the hope of everyone involved that these diverse experiences will be included in Alberta curricula in the future.

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