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The Emancipation Day Act

On Thursday May27th, I spoke  on Bill 232, The Emancipation Day  Act, brought forward  by the MLA for St. Vital so that we can have a day – August 1st to remember and celebrate the emancipation which occurred in 1834.

Bill 232–The Emancipation Day Act

Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank the member for St. Vital for putting forward this bill.

      It is an important bill and it should be passed. Our Manitoba Liberals' caucus supports it. As the member has suggested it, I will have a party in River Heights, when appropriate to the COVID situation at that time, and I will invite the MLA for St. Vital and the MLAs for Southdale and Union Station.

      I was fortunate. My father grew up in Africa, in what is now Zambia. In his early life, all his friends were Black. He had a great admiration for Black people. He used, for example, to tell the story of the chief of a village located not far from Kanchindu in the valley of the Zambezi River.

During the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, this chief, Chief Syatiminda, saved his village while other nearby villages were ravaged by disease and many deaths. He did this by mandating that everyone in the village had to leave their homes at sunrise and not return until sunset. For some reason, he knew or suspected what we know today, that it's safer outdoors than indoors, for the virus spreads poorly outdoors. He also used a traditional medicine from the sap of a baobab tree. Perhaps this sap should be studied this time, too.

      My father also spoke highly of Nelson Mandela in the 1950s and '60s, long before it became popular to do so.

      When I was growing up, one of my heroes was John Ware, a Black cowboy who had an amazing skill with horses and became a very respected and successful rancher in Alberta. I always thought he was symbolic of the Canadian spirit of succeeding against long odds.

      Many times, I've spoken to audiences about another Black Canadian, Elijah McCoy, a mechanical engineer and inventor who contributed immensely to the development of lubricants for engines. I like to think, as has been suggested, that the phrase the real McCoy came from people demanding that they get the real Elijah McCoy lubricant, because it worked so much better than anything else.

      As well as being proud of the contributions of Black Canadians, which are enormous, we need to remember that we, as humans, evolved from early humans in Africa. In this context, we should all know the story of Marina Elliott, a Canadian biological anthropologist who became an underground astro­naut, going into a small cave through a narrow opening.

She was not Black herself, but she was an im­portant part of a team that explored the cave and found extensive remains of a new early hominid, Homo naledi, which lived 250 to 450 thousand years ago in South Africa, not far from Johannesburg. We owe much to people who came from Africa, including our own species, and to those like Marina who had contributed to this understanding.

      In Manitoba, we recognize many extraordinary Black Manitobans. Gerry Atwell, an amazing musi­cian and mentor to many, is being celebrated each year in mid August at the St. Norbert Arts and Cultural Centre. Last year, out of the celebration came a poster, messages of hope for a world without racism, with each MLA receiving a copy, and it was widely distributed, also, in Manitoba schools.

      In Manitoba, we're also making progress with back–Black politicians being elected, the most recent being Sunday Frangi in the city council in Brandon.

      We do need this bill. We need it to remind us of our own heritage and of the incredible contributions Black Canadians have made.

      It is true that there has existed, and still exists, much racism in Manitoba, and we need to acknow­ledge this. I hope, working together, we can change this and improve the lives of those who are Black in Manitoba, for in so doing we also improve our own lives and the life and culture of our city, our province and our country.

      As the MLA from Tyndall Park says, recon­ciliation and understanding one's own privilege is a part of this, and it's everyone's work.

      Emancipation Day, August 1st, 1934 was an im­port­ant day in our history, and we need to recognize its significance.

      Thank you, the MLA for St. Vital.

      Thank you all. Merci. Miigwech.

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