The Arctic Afro-Cultural Association is hosting its annual Strengthening and Connecting Communities conference, and residents across the territory are invited to join.
This is the third symposium held by the organization, also known as AACA and based in Fort Smith, since it began in 2019. The symposium is taking place over two weekends.
The first weekend – held this past Saturday and Sunday – included panel discussions on understanding systemic racism and how to file race-based human rights complaints, as well as a poetry competition and musical performances by Black Canadian artists.
Karen Ahouste serves as AACA’s secretary. She described the conference as an extension of the organization’s mandate: fostering a community of Black immigrants in the NWT while celebrating culture.
“The focus is to engage community members in meaningful conversations and promote inclusion,” she said.
Facilitating opportunities for Afro-Canadian migrants to connect with one another in the North is vital, Ahouste argued. It can help newcomers feel more comfortable and enhance their quality of life.
Ahouste, from West Africa, moved to Canada three years ago. “For me, being a Black woman coming from Africa who spoke French, my first year here in Canada wasn’t easy,” she says.
Getting to know other Afro-Canadian migrants, Ahouste started to feel more comfortable. They were able to talk about shared experiences and Ahouste felt more at home. She joined the AACA when it began to help others going through the same thing.
“It is like a family,” she said.
Benedict Atta, in Fort Simpson, is the organization’s director.
“Sometimes, coming to the North, we don’t have information or we don’t have anyone to rely on,” Atta said. “So we have to create a small community where we can help, we can give information to people, and from time to time we can even gather and enjoy northern life together.”
Both Ahouste and Atta said forging relationships with other communities – especially the NWT’s Indigenous community – is just as important.
“Everyone is welcome in our association,” Ahouste said.
Addressing racism, cultivating relationships
The AACA says its aim is to give people the tools they need to address discrimination in Canadian society.
A workshop this past Saturday described ways to identify racism in workplaces or job interviews and protect yourself in those situations, such as documenting what happened in a personal journal and staying informed about laws that prohibit race-based discrimination.
During a panel discussion on Sunday morning about systemic racism, community members were given the chance to share their experiences with one another. One participant spoke about exclusion they faced while studying post-secondary; another talked about the hurtful stereotypes that often accompany being an immigrant.
The conference continues this coming Saturday and Sunday. There will be a roundtable discussion on how racism can affect mental health, as well as more poetry readings and musical performances.
A schedule of events and link to the Google Meet hosting the conference can be found on the organization’s Facebook page.