February 15, 2022, Calgary, AB
In February, we celebrate the invaluable contributions of Black Canadians to our culture and community. The theme for Black History Month this year is February and Forever: Celebrating Black History today and every day.
The celebration of Black History Month originates from the U.S. professor Carter G. Woodson’s 1926 declaration of Negro History Week, a week which marked the birthdates of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.
The designation of this month in Canada was introduced in December 1995 by the House of Commons, where February was officially recognized as Black History Month.
In alignment with this year’s theme, February is an especially important time for Canadians to understand and celebrate the rich history and the successes and contributions of Black Canadians to our past and present. As we celebrate their contributions and successes this and every month, AAISA wants to recognize some prominent Black Canadians and their contributions to Canada.
Born into slavery in South Carolina in 1845, John Ware relocated to Texas following the American Civil War learned ranching and became a hard-working cowboy. Trail drives took him to Montana and later the Great Plains north of the border in present day Alberta. He was one of the first Black people to arrive in Alberta. Deciding to settle in Calgary, he worked for others for a short time before he was able to buy his own ranch. His future wife Mildred Lewis grew up on King St. in Toronto, moving west to Calgary with her family where she met John. They married in 1892 and raised five children. He is remembered for his great skill in riding and training horses and popularizing steer wrestling. When the Calgary Stampede opened for its inaugural summer in July 1912, steer wrestling popularized by John Ware was one of the events. He was a man of strong character mixed with a great sense of humour and dedicated work ethic. Today in southern Alberta, several geographic features are named after John, including Mount Ware and Ware Creek. In Calgary, a Junior High School, and a building on the grounds of the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology bear his name. In 2012, Canada Post issued a commemorative stamp featuring Ware to recognize his legacy, not only as one of the first Black cowboys in Canada, but as someone who blazed a trail as a horseman and a rancher. John Ware was also featured on the CBC Calgary podcast Heroes Hustlers and Horsemen, which highlights lesser-known stories of real people who lived in southern Alberta around the time of confederation and a few decades beyond. Check out the full series here.
Jean Augustine made history as the first African-Canadian woman to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons as the Member of Parliament from the Greater Toronto Area constituency of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. She served with distinction winning four consecutive elections until she decided to move on to new challenges in 2006. Amongst her notable achievements was legislation to protect disadvantaged low-income individuals including single mothers raising children; securing unanimous legislative support to pass a historic motion designating February as Black History Month in Canada; securing unanimous legislative support to pass a landmark motion to erect the only statue featuring women on Parliament Hill, the Famous Five Monument; and extensive travel and engagement in countries around the world on action and initiatives to ultimately improve the human condition.
Viola Desmond refused to change her seat in the whites-only section of the Roseland Theatre in Nova Scotia, she unknowingly began a nationwide movement to end segregation in Canada. In December 2016, the Bank of Canada announced that Viola Desmond would be the first Canadian woman to be featured by herself on the face of a banknote — the $10 note released on 19 November 2018.
Senator Anne Cools was the longest-serving member of the Senate and the first female black Senator in North America. In 1974, as a pioneer in combatting domestic and family violence, she founded one of Canada’s first women’s shelters.
Learn about other black Canadians who have made significant contributions to Canada here.
May their stories of courage in the face of adversity motivate us to celebrate our Black community, honor the traditions and culture they bring to Canada and continue challenging racism.
AAISA Statement of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples
July 5, 2021, Calgary, AB
All of us at AAISA are deeply saddened and outraged by the discovery of the buried remains of Indigenous children across several sites of former residential schools across Canada. The news is a painful reminder of centuries of systemic oppression and trauma inflicted upon Indigenous peoples.
This news is a stark reminder – of both Canada’s history of colonialism, and of the persistent lack of action, education, and meaningful reconciliation of the present. The cornerstone of both truth and reconciliation is confronting both our past and present without distortion and deprecation. It is our duty, as settlers of Turtle Island, to educate ourselves on on the atrocities of our past and how these legacies of injustice cascade into the systems and institutions of today.
While efforts have been made and apologies uttered, the historical and continued subjugation, injustice, and systemic racism towards Indigenous peoples are not prominent in the non-profit sector narrative. As a non-profit sector, we must recognize that we have often both benefitted and perpetuated injustice and inequity within our organizations and the communities we serve. Furthermore, as a settlement and integration sector, we must acknowledge the role that settlement has played in the historical and ongoing subjugation and displacement of Indigenous peoples. While Settlement is inextricably linked to the colonial underpinnings and modern realities of Canada, it is our utmost responsibility as a settlement and integration sector to chart a new way forward founded upon accountability, truth, and reconciliation.
AAISA, as an advocate and collaborator, has the responsibility to bring these matters forward and ensure that we are dedicated to a conscious and responsible approach to reconcile with our past, advocate for truth, and call upon every institution in Canada to work together to strive for the same. AAISA is committed to our ongoing efforts to counter discrimination and racism towards Indigenous peoples and systemic denial of their rights. In collaboration with our member agencies and umbrella counterparts, we want to build trusting relationships with Indigenous communities and develop meaningful partnerships to actively strengthen truth and reconciliation into our daily work.
To do this, AAISA staff have been reflecting on our position in advancing the 94 TRC Calls to Action, specifically Calls 93 and 94:
First, we call upon entire settlement sector and all non-profit organizations to commit to adapting and implementing all 94 TRC Calls to Action, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Second, we are committed to creating a task force that will work with Indigenous communities to integrate their perspectives into our initiatives and programming and to advocate to the Federal Government to address and implement the Calls to Action.
Third, we ask Alberta government to research into the undocumented deaths and burials of hundreds of Indigenous children and give families closure.
Fourth, we ask Federal Government to, in collaboration with Indigenous peoples, reevaluate the Indian Act.
AAISA is committed to moving beyond a Statement of Reconciliation to the development and implementation of an action plan which will be reviewed regularly.
AAISA Statement of support and solidarity for Muslim communities
July 5, 2021, Calgary, AB
AAISA is appalled and deeply troubled by the recent violence and acts of hate directed at the Muslim community across Canada. There has been a string of violent Islamophobic attacks, rooted in systems and beliefs of white supremacy and white privilege that exist throughout Canadian society and underlie government policy.
The attack of two sisters in St. Albert last week was a deliberate act of Islamophobia and systemic racism. This is the latest vicious attack among too many in the last year including attacks on Somali Canadian woman in Edmonton in February 2021, two Muslim women in Edmonton in December 2020, the Afzaal family killing in London, Ontario in June 2021, and a stabbing at a Toronto Mosque in September 2020.
Islamophobia cannot be seen in isolation from the concerning increase in xenophobia and hate speech against minorities in Canada, including immigrants and diverse faith communities. Such vile acts are violations to the Universal Human Rights and Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and particularly the freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.
The fear of immigrants of different religious traditions has a long history in Canada, since the racist rules of the Immigration Act 1869, The Chinese Immigration Act of 1885, Immigration Act of 1906, and Chinese Immigration Act of 1923. Although Canada committed to support multiculturalism with the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy of 1971 and Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988, 30 years later racial separatism, hatred, and violence towards minority groups has been escalating in Canada.
As AAISA strives to build a welcoming, inclusive, and engaging society, we commit to speak out and take actions against hate, systemic racism, and social inequality and condemn Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and religious discrimination. We urge federal and provincial governments to develop a country-wide approach for reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination in the spirit of building safer and more inclusive communities for all Canadians.