“We are the Roots” tells Canadian black history

Award-winning documentary to be screened at U of M

We are the Roots: Black Settlers and their Experiences of Discrimination on the Canadian Prairies will be screened in the GSA Lounge Feb. 28 as part of the university’s celebration of Black History Month.

The documentary, which can be viewed on Vimeo, dives into Canada’s own history with racism with various examples of racial intolerance and persecution on the Prairies.

The award-winning documentary examines the history of a wave of African-American immigrants who moved to Alberta and Saskatchewan between 1905 and 1912. The film interviews the children and grandchildren of these settlers.

When the state of Oklahoma was created in 1907, segregation became enforced in the area, leading to an exodus of its black residents. Cheap land offered by the Canadian government attracted many black Americans to Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Deborah Dobbins, president of the Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots, acted as project manager on the film. Jenna Bailey and David Este, who are professors at the University of Lethbridge and the University of Calgary respectively, are credited as co-directors, producers and writers. Bailey, Dobbins and Este worked together to organize the film’s production and gather data on the early 20th century black settlers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

“Dave [Este] and I did quite a bit of background research on the history of these communities and the migration patterns,” said Bailey.

Dobbins, Este and Bailey decided to create an oral history by filming 19 interviewees who were children or grandchildren of the black settlers.

“We did two weekends of interviews in Edmonton, both at Shiloh Baptist Church which is quite central to our story,” said Bailey.

The U of M’s We are the Roots screening was organized by Myrna Donald of the U of M’s Black History Month committee, who said she felt the education system in Canada did not include enough history on black Canadians.

“When I was going through school, K to 12, there was mention of the Underground Railroad, but there was no mention other than that of black people in Canada […] many people felt it was just recent immigration and they didn’t have a good sense of black Canadians,” she said.

Donald said she believes this documentary will help expand people’s understanding of black people’s Canadian past.

“We are still part of the fabric of Canada,” said Donald.

“The more people can learn about each other, the more people will understand about each other and that will help to dismiss some of the stereotypes.”

We are the Roots will be shown in the GSA Lounge, 221 UMSU University Centre, on Feb. 28 at 8 p.m. You can register for this free event at eventscalendar.umanitoba.ca.