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History Teaching Tool Preview: Black Lives in Alberta: Over a Century of Racial Injustice Continues (BLiA), Film and Teaching Kit


By Dr. Jenna Bailey, University of Lethbridge, Laura Collison, Aspen Foundation for Labour Education, Deborah Dobbins, Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots, Dr. David Este, University of Calgary.

What can you tell us about the teaching tool(s)/resource(s) you are developing?

The film, Black Lives in Alberta: Over a Century of Racial Injustice Continues (BLiA), tells the story of five generations of Black Albertans and their experiences of discrimination living on the Canadian Prairies. The film provides historical background and four descendants of these immigrants share their family histories and discuss how their racial identities have shaped their experiences living in Alberta.

BLiA builds onWe are the Roots, an award-winning documentary that tells the story of the 1,000 to 1,500 African Americans who came to Canada in the early 1900s to escape discrimination and mistreatment in the United States. The African Americans largely settled in small, rural communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan. In Western Canada, they also faced discrimination, especially in the cities.

The new documentary, which is just over 33 mins long, was specifically designed for use in the Alberta school system but also has relevance for higher education and adult audiences.  An accompanying teacher’s guide that was developed by the Aspen Foundation for Labour Education offers activities and resources for teachers in Grades 4 -12 to use to help students learn about and address racial injustice.

The film and its teaching kit will be publicly available after May and can currently be accessed by contacting SCMR by email at shilohcmr@gmail.com. The film will be previewed online on February 23 at 6pm in a screening sponsored by the Lethbridge Diversity & Inclusion Alliance, the United Way of Lethbridge and South Western Alberta, and the Centre for Oral History and Tradition (COHT) at the University of Lethbridge.   The preview screening will be followed by a Q & A with the project team and two of the film’s interviewees.   To register please visit:  https://lethbridgeunitedway.ca/BHM. On Sunday February 27, 2022, the Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots will also be previewing BLiA at their in-person Black History Month culminating event in Edmonton.  Please visit https://shilohcmr.com for additional information.

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How did this project/teaching tool come about? 

The film is the brainchild of Deborah Dobbins, founder and CEO of Edmonton’s Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots (SCMR), a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and promoting the history of the African Americans who came to the Prairies in the early 1900s. Dobbins originally teamed up with Dr. David Este, professor emeritus with the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, and Dr. Jenna Bailey ((Bailey & Soda Films), senior research fellow with COHT to conduct interviews with 19 descendants of the original settlers.   These interviews led to the creation of their first documentary, We are the Roots.

Following on from the success of this first film, the Aspen Foundation for Labour Education, an organization dedicated to empowering citizens with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that allow them to fully contribute to a healthy, just and democratic society through participation in labour and social justice initiatives, commissioned the SCMR team to produce a similar film that was geared toward a younger audience. To bring the topic into the present day the SCMR team interviewed four young Black Albertans, descendants of the original settlers, about their current experiences of discrimination in Alberta.

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 What do you envision students will learn from these resources? 

This film will teach students about the migration history of the African Americans who moved from the United States in the early 20th century and the challenges and successes they faced while helping develop the province of Alberta. Importantly, the film will also shed light into some of the major issues facing today’s young Black youth in Alberta and destroy the myth that racism does not exist in Canada. Albertans and Canadians can learn a tremendous amount about discrimination in their own country from the individuals who shared their experiences.

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What is unique about this teaching resource?

The Alberta education system is lacking in resources with regard to Black history in its own province. This film and accompanying teaching kit will fill an important gap and provide educators the necessary resources to teach this critical subject matter. The interviews with young Black Albertans sharing how they navigate discrimination today helps make the material relatable to students. The documentary provides lived experience experts who share current information to support the resource’s content.  This information should be embedded in the curriculum and this resource, made freely available by the Aspen Foundation for Labour Education and the Shiloh Centre for Multicultural Roots, is an important first step in laying the foundation for teaching Black history and social justice issues that are based on systemic racial discrimination.

*All images included in the blog are from the film