Bissell’s National Indigenous Peoples Day celebration weeks ago brought 96 St. right outside Bissell to life. Bissell Centre has been celebrating National Indigenous Peoples Day, proclaimed in 1996 by the Canadian Government, for well over a decade! This year, it was so much more than a block party– our team made sure this was a celebration to remember.
Keeping Traditions Alive
Our Food Services kitchen team made traditional stew and Bannock for everyone who attended. In total, they served more than 900 meals! Elders from the community held a traditional pipe ceremony to kick things off. They shared stories of struggle and expressed why the customs and traditions they grew up with are so important to folks from Indigenous communities.
Energetic Local Performances
Families enjoyed the traditional hand games from Indigenous communities. Plus, dance and music performances from the Thunder Lake Singers & Dancers and flutist Theo Waskahat. The block was alive with music, drumming, and dancing for the whole community to enjoy.
Sharing and Learning Together
National Indigenous Peoples Day is always an amazing celebration, but this year’s was truly one to remember. We’re so happy and grateful for everyone who came out, participated, shared their gifts, and helped make sure Indigenous customs and traditions will stay alive for the people who need them most.
National Indigenous Peoples Day 2023 Photo Highlights
Celebrating Black History Month in Edmonton is important – but it’s just as important to know why we celebrate Black History Month. In order to do this celebration of Black accomplishments justice, we need to fully understand what was the intention of this month, what was the larger social context of the times, and why this celebration needed to come into existence.
The Black experience in Edmonton is unique especially compared to the American Black experience through slavery and into modern marginalization. Despite these differences on the surface, the underlying themes are all too familiar to far too many races, groups, identities, and nations.
Where Black History Month Began
Carter G. Woodson is often considered the man who ignited Black History Month. He was born to a literate mother and an illiterate father, so he grew up understanding how a person’s origins and story are sacred and need to be preserved and shared for future generations. Wanting to create a record of important historical Black Americans, Woodson’s main goal was for young Black people to see these themselves in these powerful figures and stories. This was during a time when Black accomplishments went relatively unnoticed outside of the communities and were largely omitted from textbooks and history lessons.
For accomplished sociologist and Bissell Centre Family Support worker Samuel Enyon, Black History Month is important because of the lack of representation of Black achievement. “For me as an African immigrant to Canada, knowing and celebrating some of the Black people that made it possible to even dream of ever coming to the Americas, live a dignified life and fight for a better life for my family is both humbling and an honour,” says Samuel.
Recognizing the Black Experience
The abuses African American face on a daily basis can not be understated. The engrained racism across the United States is so deep it’s nearly unrecognizable as deliberate disenfranchisement. While many folks are working towards restorative justice for Black communities, it feels like just as many people would rather pretend this inequality doesn’t exist.
Samuel goes on to explain that those who write history get to control the narrative and unfortunately, the history of Black people has typically been written by white scholars. “What this means is that it took the efforts of Black figures such as Carter G Woodson, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and other civil rights activists to finally be mentioned in history,” says Samuel. “And why many children growing up in Africa as I did, know why Nelson Mandela, Patrice Lumumba and Kwame Knuruma were fighting for our freedom in Africa.”
A Celebration of Overcoming Obstacles
Black History Month’s main message is a positive one about celebrating the achievements of men and women who faced seemingly constant barriers, yet still achieved in ways that some folks could only dream of. And this is where Black History Month touches Edmonton.
The underlying theme of overcoming obstacles is a common story in a lot of marginalized communities in Edmonton. Whether it’s Indigenous Edmontonians attempting to navigate a system that initially sought to wipe them out, new Canadians trying to build a better life only to find demeaning work and living conditions, or any Edmontonian born without the resources to meet their full potential, this is a month to give them hope.
“It’s upon us to embody the legacy of the legends that founded Black History Month and extend the same concept to all folks of the visible minority and beyond,” says Samuel.
The colour of our skin, the amount of money we have, where we slept last night, when we ate last, or whatever challenge we’re facing doesn’t define us as people. We are all capable of so much – some of us face more barriers than others. Black History Month shows what can be possible despite what’s working against us.
Black History Month can easily go forgotten in Edmonton. On the surface, the Black experience isn’t as prevalent in our culture as it in in the United States. But Edmonton is no stranger to the influence and celebrations from our Black communities. Just ask anyone who’s been to the Cariwest Festival or explored the excellent vendors at Black Owned Market (BOM) YEG.;
Though Black History Month is rooted in the American Black experience and celebrating the achievements of Black folks despite the history of slavery and continued systemic racism, there is a lot of Black experience here in Edmonton absolutely worth celebrating. And though the stories look different on the surface, the underlying themes remain very consistent.
Viewpoint from a Sociologist
Samuel Enyon is a Family Support worker with Bissell Centre, who earned his master’s degree when he was studying in Madrid. Originally from Uganda, Samuel looks at his own and his family and community members’ journeys to Canada and relates very closely to what’s being expressed with Black History Month.
He explains that a lot of the context that people from African and Caribbean countries bring when they arrive in Edmonton does tend to be white-centric. In addition, further barriers to Black success can play a devastating role for Black families looking to settle and find a better life.
Bissell Centre Helps Bridge the Gap
Oftentimes, foreign credentials aren’t recognized in Canada, making employment difficult for a lot of new Canadians. This is one of the biggest barriers faced by new Canadians. Samuel himself sees families come by the community space, fully prepared to sleep on the streets.
Samuel once worked with an immigrant family that came from an African country, and all they could speak was Portuguese. The father managed to string a few English words together, just enough to have them referred to Bissell Centre Family support. When they arrived, the father broke down in tears. The family had spent three years getting to Edmonton. They passed through Central America, slept in wetlands, and one of the children nearly drowned.
“Who knows if the family understands the amount of trauma they went through?” Samuel recounts. “I was so fortunate that my team was able to put some things aside to further help this family with whatever resources they could find.”
With no options available within the formal system to keep this family from sleeping on the streets, the lead looked to Samuel for ideas. He suggested calling their country association in Edmonton. It wasn’t long before the family found sponsors to host them, and they quickly moved into their own permanent housing.
In his own words, Samuel says, “it was the first time I had seen an organization put so much into helping a Black family.”
Blended stories and shared fates for Edmontonians
As Samuel recounts the story of the family, he points to the similarities, systemic barriers, and opportunities that all new Canadians may encounter.
“To me, Black History Month is a celebration of a lot of different cultures who’ve struggled and overcome,” says Samuel. “The stories are different. But the similarities are very close, and this is a coming together to empower the most vulnerable in our societies.”
Considering himself lucky and well-positioned as a family support worker at Bissell Centre, Samuel meets families from all races, cultural backgrounds, and nations. To him, expressing the need for us as humanity to reach across the table and seize every opportunity to treat each other as humanely as possible drives his work at Bissell Centre.
Samuel stresses that Black history month needs to be celebrated every day of our lives. “Each and every one of us should find it in our hearts to practice kindness, empathy, and love,” says Samuel. “We can come together to ask the inconvenient questions and seek a better understanding of each other and not be so quick to classify each other.”