The sounds of drumming and singing filled the first floor of the MacKenzie Art Gallery on Saturday as African Canadian Black History Month kicked off with performances by a number of cultural groups.
From 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., the MacKenzie Art Gallery was filled with people of all cultures coming together to learn about and celebrate African Canadian cultures.
Carol LaFayette-Boyd, executive director of Saskatchewan African Canadian Heritage Museum (SACHM), was thrilled to see so many people come out. She said the purpose of the event was to inform people about African Canadian history in Saskatchewan — a community that has been represented in the province since 1896 with the arrival of Alfred Shadd.
“A lot of people don’t know that people of African descent have been around here for 100-and-some years,” said LaFayette-Boyd.
Her own family’s roots in the province go back almost as far, with her father’s family coming to Saskatchewan in 1906 and her mother’s family in 1910.
But it is not always people of other cultures who can learn from the event. LaFayette-Boyd said people of African descent are often unaware of their own culture’s history in Saskatchewan.
“For me, even growing up here, I didn’t know about Dr. Shadd … I didn’t find out about him until 1984 when somebody from the Battleford district asked me if I knew him,” she said.
“It’s nice to know your background.”
The Uganda Community Association of Saskatchewan (UCAS) Karibu group’s performance of several Ugandan dances was part of the day’s events. UCAS Karibu program coordinator Lydia Nabweteme shared a bit of background on each dance with the audience throughout the event.
She said this type of public education is key in helping the general public understand African culture.
“I feel proud as a Ugandan and as a program coordinator because I feel like the best way we can showcase our culture is to do public performances like this one.”
Learning more about another culture means more than seeing the differences, said Nabweteme. It’s also about seeing the similarities.
When she first came to Saskatchewan six years ago after growing up in Uganda, she began learning about the history of Canada’s Indigenous people. She quickly realized their story was not so different from her country’s own experience with colonization.
“As we grew up, we were told that our culture was ugly, our culture was dirty, our culture was barbaric. So when I came to Canada and learned about First Nations history, I’m like: ‘This is the same. This is what they did back home,’” she said.
While Nabweteme is always happy to educate people from other cultures about her background, she said the event is also an opportunity to pass on the Ugandan culture to her children and other young people.
“The best way we can help the kids maintain the culture or even to teach others is to … showcase what we have,” she said.
African Canadian Black History Month runs all of February. For a full list of events happening across the province, visit the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan’s website.