On Aug.1, 1834, the British parliament outlawed the owning, buying and selling of humans as property throughout its colonies. The historic act freed about 800,000 enslaved people of African descent across the colonies, including in Upper and Lower Canada and Nova Scotia.
This year marks the second Emancipation Day recognized by the provincial government. The official ceremony kicked off at 10 a.m. at the Halifax Convention Centre.
“Emancipation is about freedom, and freedom is a birthright of every human being,” Louise Delisle, a resident of Shelburne and advocate, said at the ceremony.
“Because I am a fifth-generation descendant of the Black Loyalists, I see my life as an important but different way of living, as if in a series of memories for my descendants.
“This day holds an importance of freedom to my ancestors — and me.”
Delisle said African Nova Scotians in rural communities “far from the metropolis” experience blatant racism and discrimination still.
“The enslavement of our African ancestors was demoralizing, dehumanizing and brutal,” she said.
“From the moment they were stolen from their homes in Africa, they remained courageous, resolute and resilient in their fight, which is making it possible for us to be here today.”
Dwayne Provo, deputy minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, led the ceremony.
“May we honour and offer gratitude to our ancestors who came to this land before us, and their commitment to let our history not be lost,” Provo said, opening the ceremony.
Provo said 15 million African people were victims of the “horrific” trans-Atlantic slave trade by the British Empire.
“All Nova Scotians must acknowledge that the institution of slavery existed here, in our province and indeed in our country,” he said.
“It is our shared responsibility to work together to address anti-Black racism, and all forms of racism, so all Nova Scotians can thrive.”
He said in addition to Emancipation Day, it’s important to also recognize Aug. 31, which marks the day of remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition. This day, Provo said, is connected to people of African descent in Haiti and the Dominican Republic who fought for their freedom.
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Federal Minister of Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen also attended the Nova Scotia ceremony.
Hussen said March 24, 2021, was the day the House of Commons passed a vote to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day. On June 28, 2021, there was another unanimous vote in the Senate of Canada to designate Aug. 1 as Emancipation Day, he said.
“This is important because far too many Canadians don’t realize, or are not aware, that slavery occurred on Canadian soil,” Hussen said, adding that the day is also there to raise awareness and educate the public.
“Emancipation Day for me, and for all of us, is an opportunity for us to recognize the continued effects of enslavement, historical anti-Black racism.”
Hussen also attended Sunday’s National Black Canadians Summit in Halifax.
A Pan-African flag was raised last week on the MacDonald Bridge in Halifax.
Several events are taking place around the province, including a parade in front of city hall in Halifax, as well as a free Monday evening concert. A full list of events is available online.
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