Hon. Wanda Elaine Thomas Bernard: Honourable senators, it is my honour to be with you in person today and to deliver a statement for Black History Month on this first day of Black History Month. This year, the national theme is “Ours to tell,” and Nova Scotia’s African Heritage Month theme is “Seas of Struggle.” Both evoke a sense of ancestral, collective remembering. The history and relationship to the sea is our story to tell. The sea is an integral part of African Canadian history, as our ancestors were trafficked across the Middle Passage. Many survived the brutal journey; many did not survive.
I feel a particular affinity to the sea, living in Nova Scotia. Almost every single one of the 48 African-Nova Scotian communities lies where water and land meet, physically pushed to the margins of the province. Nova Scotia has many sea-related industries with very little Black representation. Perhaps it is time for Nova Scotia to create opportunities in fishing and shipbuilding industries for reparations based on the link between African Nova Scotians and the Atlantic Ocean. This could be a three-step process.
First, address racism in the industries as part of an ongoing process of systemic change. Second, offer educational and training opportunities for African Nova Scotians. Third, fill positions in the industries. There are some positive examples of innovative programs that address steps two and three with opportunities for women, Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotians in the shipbuilding industry, for example. There is more work to be done especially with step one, making sure the workplaces are safe as they become more diverse.
These themes help me imagine that future generations of African Nova Scotians have a more impactful and engaging relationship with the sea, moving us from seas of struggle to prosperity. Happy Black History Month to all Canadians, and happy African Heritage Month to Nova Scotians.
Asante, thank you.