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‘Future’s bright’ for NWT’s Black advocacy coalition


The NWT’s new Black-led advocacy coalition has started taking action to address systemic racism in the territory while celebrating the Black community.

Following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, BACupNorth began forming last June as Yellowknife drew hundreds of people to its own Black Lives Matter protest.

At the time, president and founding member Ambe Chenemu told Cabin Radio he envisaged a safe space for Black people in the North, while advocating for racial equity and social change on their behalf.

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Now, nearly eight months after its inception, the coalition is getting more recognition and interest.  

“The future’s bright, the conversation is moving forward,” Chenemu said.

“If we continue to get this type of response from the community, then we can only do a better job at what we’re doing in terms of raising the profile of Black northerners, Black businesses, and empowering ourselves so that we can bring more diversity, richness, quality and opportunity here to our territories.”

Anansia Leslie is the organization’s vice-president.

She hopes the organization will help make the Black community in the NWT more visible and welcoming.

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“That’s a reality for a lot of us that are Black: before we go any place in the entire world, we Google search what it’s like for the Black experience in this particular area,” Leslie said.

Ambe Chenemu, president of BACupNorth. Photo: Submitted

“I think if now we can find ourselves on Google and say, ‘Hey, there is a community up here that I can go to and gain some knowledge, and find a community that I can be a part of,’ that helps so much for any newcomer.”

It also helps to build a sense of community for Black people who have been here for some time, Leslie added.

“Building that tight-knit community, and us getting together and hearing out certain problems or situations that we all have to face, we can really start tackling those issues on the Black northern experience,” she said.

BACupNorth ran a social media campaign throughout February – Black History Month – to highlight prominent Black Canadians and celebrate their contributions, as well as Black-owned businesses in the NWT.

“The only way that anyone could appreciate where we are is to look back at where we came from, and who was part of that story,” Chenemu said.

“We’ve had a dark past, and we’ve also had people thrive in that dark past in our Black community and have brought so much to Canada. Those are stories that are never told.

“For us to be able to craft a better story for the future, I think we need to get a good understanding of where we’re coming from and who were those that came before us, and what they did, and why are we having this conversation right now, and where do we go from here.”

Chenemu said organizers have been communicating with NWT education officials regarding an updated curriculum to better reflect the Black experience. The group will meet with the justice minister this month to explore the potential of proposed community safety officer pilot programs for the Black community.  

Anansia Leslie, vice-president of BACupNorth. Photo: Submitted

Finding funding to help build capacity and ease demand on volunteers is a priority, according to Chenemu.

“We haven’t found a way to be sustainable, and that’s something that we need to start looking at ASAP,” he said.

“It’s our job to make sure that we’re always here to highlight the excellence of our community, the richness of our community, the diversity of our community. That will always be a priority for BACupNorth.”

Both Leslie and Chenemu said this is the first time they had seen the North’s Black community organize this way.

“We’ve had people from different organizations reaching out to us and wanting to collaborate with us,” Leslie said. “Even individuals in our community, they’re excited, and they want to volunteer and get this thing moving.

“It’s been a life-changing experience, and I’m excited to see where we’re going to take this.”

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