Educator tries to raise profile of black history in Canada

February 23, 2015
EVAN BOUDREAU
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Everton Lewis is trying to raise awareness that black history is as much a part of Canada's past as the stories of European explorers like Samuel Champlain.

"Being black and being Canadian at the same time I always asked 'Where is my story?'" during history class, said the Toronto Catholic school board's community relations staff member.

"When I was in school I didn't hear anything, it was almost like there was no beginning and that somebody just snapped their fingers and here we were."

But Lewis has since learned this is not the case.

"(Champlain hired Mathieu) Da Costa, who was a free black explorer back in the 1600s, to translate for them the languages of the aboriginals," said Lewis.

"That means blacks were coming to North America before even Europeans."

The truth about racism's prevalence throughout Canada's history is also something all students need to be aware of, said Lewis.

"If we don't realize our mistakes, if we don't see it is a mistake but rather something that just happened, what is going to stop it from happening again?"

Lewis suggested exposing students to alternative material. During his presentation, Lewis used the first seven minutes of the 50-minute film, Speakers for the Dead, produced in 2000.

"When I saw the documentary, it went right along with what I have always believed, that there is something missing" in our Canadian history curriculum, he said.

The documentary focuses on the excavation of an abandoned cemetery in Priceville, Ont., south of Owen Sound, where at one point a sunset curfew was imposed on blacks.

It follows the story of a committee that seeks to uncover a lost tombstone in the late 1990s and the resistance from the locals in the search – likely out of fear of the discovery being linked to black ancestry in the area.

Lewis said this racist-driven rejection of the past is not an isolated incident in Canada.

MISGUIDED CONCEPT

Elise Harding-Davis, curator of the North American Black History Museum, said racism continues to exist in Canada primarily due to a misguided concept of Canadian history.

"Many people are told blacks only arrived here in the last one or two generations, but we've been here for a solid 200 or 300 years and we are part of what Canada stands for," she said.

That's why Lewis said schools need to change the way Canadian history is presented to curb the "almost subconscious racism" in the curriculum.

"If you look at our schools the entire curriculum is euro-centric," he said.