Final day of Black Canadian summit sees historic declaration

·3 min read
Michaëlle Jean's foundation hosted the summit. (Victoria Welland/CBC - image credit)
Michaëlle Jean's foundation hosted the summit. (Victoria Welland/CBC - image credit)

The National Black Canadians Summit concluded Sunday with a historic declaration demanding justice and equality for Black Canadians and people of African descent.

"We will remember this moment becoming a movement," said Michaëlle Jean, one of the declaration readers. She is a former governor general of Canada, and her foundation hosted the summit.

The Halifax Declaration is a comprehensive document that grew out of the discussions, panels and workshops that took place over the course of the three-day summit. Writers of the declaration also spent months leading up to the summit gathering input from community members. The declaration is the first of its kind in Halifax.

Sunday began with a non-denominational church service. A number of speakers then took the stage, including Ahmed Hussen, the minister of housing, diversity and inclusion, and Sen. Wanda Thomas Bernard.

The declaration was presented artistically with prominent Black leaders reading excerpts from the document while musicians and a dancer brought the performance to life.

Victoria Welland/CBC
Victoria Welland/CBC

It opens with an acknowledgement of the displacement of many Africans due to colonization, genocide and slavery.

'Strength to strength'

Lynn Jones, a Black Nova Scotian elder, started off the declaration performance by recognizing the history of African Nova Scotians.

"From strength to strength, we have persisted, created, remembered and marched forward," Jones said. "We are here."

The body of the declaration has three main pillars: recognition, justice, and development. These are the same pillars introduced by the United Nations international decade for people of African descent, started in 2015.

"We also really wanted to make sure it was a declaration grounded in community, grounded in a full understanding of not just our local place, but connecting globally," said El Jones, an activist and one of the declaration's authors.

Calls to action

The declaration contains numerous calls to action, some of which are:

  • The federal government to enact legislation recognizing people of African descent in Canada as a distinct group and recognize their contributions.

  • A recognition of the realities of slavery and its impacts.

  • Parliament to implement a Declaration of Cultural Rights recognizing the artistic contributions and heritage of Black Canadian creators.

  • Media to create a statement of ethics on reporting on Black communities and diversity in newsrooms.

  • Museums and libraries to preserve Black history.

  • The federal government to adopt a framework for reparations toward Indigenous people and people of African descent.

  • More accountability and recognition of harm from police and law enforcement.

  • Reform of the education system to address anti-Black racism.

Victoria Welland/CBC
Victoria Welland/CBC

DeRico Symonds, a co-chair of the summit, said he hopes those in power across Canada feel a sense of urgency to act in the face of the declaration.

"We're really hoping, demanding, wanting, needing folks to really take heed of what's being said and for those who are in positions to make decisions to get things done for communities to act," Symonds said.

Victoria Welland/CBC
Victoria Welland/CBC

Inclusion

El Jones said she's proud that the declaration is inclusive of LGBTQ people, seniors and people with disabilities.

"It's really a document that's woven together and showing that in all aspects of our life, all of these things need to be enacted so that Black people can live in the dignity and freedom we deserve," she said.

The declaration is still being finalized. The full document is set to be released in the coming months.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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CBC

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