Statement from the Chair: Celebrating African Heritage Month

Jan 23, 2023

African Heritage Month is an opportunity for Nova Scotians to reflect upon and celebrate the immense contributions of African Nova Scotians and persons of African descent to the social, cultural, political, and economic fabric of our province.

Nova Scotia is the birthplace of African presence in Canada. Among the many important contributions people of African descent have made to our province is  the establishment of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. The advocacy and leadership of African Nova Scotians was key in the early efforts to protect and promote human rights in Nova Scotia resulting in the creation of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in 1967. Awareness of this historical connection to the work of the Commission is foundational to ensuring that we continue to provide culturally responsive, trauma informed services to the communities we serve.

This year’s African Heritage Month provincial theme is Seas of Struggle – African Peoples from Shore to Shore. In the long-standing history of people of African Descent in the development of Canada, the sea has played a vital role.

The theme is a reminder that the Atlantic Ocean has shaped our identities as Nova Scotians and remains deeply connected to our society, culture, and economy. It is through these waters that people of African descent were brought here centuries ago. The oceans facilitated colonialism, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the transport of people of African descent to our province almost 300 years ago. The ocean remains an everlasting connection to our shared history, and a reminder of the resilience, strength, and determination of generations of African Nova Scotians who have made this province their home.

While African Heritage Month invites us to acknowledge and celebrate the legacies of African Nova Scotians and communities of African descent, we must look beyond February in our commitment to being better allies and champions of human rights.

I invite you to take advantage of this important month and the many activities and resources it offers to continue your learning journey about the historical and contemporary realities of people of African descent in Nova Scotia and our nation.  Take time to reflect on how communities of African descent have enriched our province  and consider your role in honouring this legacy  beyond African Heritage Month.

Cheryl Knockwood was appointed to the Commission in 2015 and subsequently appointed chair in 2019. She is s a lawyer and currently works for the Membertou First Nation as its governance co-ordinator. She has also taught Aboriginal and Treaty Rights at Cape Breton University. She lives in Sydney.